Cause and Effect for Granite State Democrats
In the wake of yesterday’s WMUR/Granite State Poll numbers showing New Hampshire Democrats currently trailing in several key statewide races, I have been asked whether I think that the party can turn around its fortunes by Election Day. Keeping in mind that we are still about nine months away from the general election, my answer is a definite maybe.
I should also add the caveat that at this early date, these polls don’t reflect as much knowledge about the candidates as they will in October, which is why almost 80% of respondents say that they are still undecided. So, while I am not ready to predict that Granite State Democrats will get back on track, I can tell you how I will know if they are getting back on track. Some of it will depend on what they say and do as candidates over the next nine months, and some of it is largely out of their control.
What I will be looking for in the coming months is evidence of two specific political phenomena – campaign effects and national effects. Campaign effects refer to the measurable impact of all that actually happens between candidates on the campaign trail, and we could see these effects in both the primary and general election. So, Democrats could benefit if the Republican primaries for several of these races are so bruising that candidate favorability ratings take a real hit.
Once we are into the general election, it will be up to the Democratic candidates themselves to change the dynamic of the race through their head-to-head match-ups, as manifested in debates, earned media, campaign ads, etc. Their success in achieving positive effects will depend on their ability to find their opponent’s greatest political vulnerabilities, while accurately reading the mood of Granite State voters in the fall.
One problem for New Hampshire Democrats is that the September primary date leaves only weeks for these general election match-ups to play out. Until then, it will be difficult for Democratic candidates like Paul Hodes and Carol Shea-Porter, who are not facing primary challenges, to get much traction in the face of all the attention currently being paid to the contested Republican races.
National effects refer to the broader social, political, and economic climate in the country. They are essentially a measure of all that has gone right and/or wrong for the Obama Administration during its first two years in office. I often hear other analysts say that for this election cycle, Democrats like Paul Hodes and Carol Shea-Porter will finally have to win on their own. The implication is that in 2006 they were aided by a very unpopular President Bush and in 2008 by a very popular candidate Barack Obama.
I would argue that the fate of local Democrats today is just as inextricably linked to what happens at the national level as it has been in the past. If the economy improves, if health care reform is a success, if national Republicans overplay their improving hand in some way, then the effect of all of this will be to the benefit of Granite State Democrats, and those poll numbers will shift in their favor. If it all goes in the other direction, however, then their chances of winning will be negatively impacted.
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