Conservatively Speaking
09-17-2010
In reflecting on the campaign rhetoric employed by state primary candidates over the past year, I am only slightly exaggerating when I say that if I had a dollar for every time a Republican hopeful used a variant of the word conservative, I would now be comfortably ensconced in a luxurious retirement community in Scottsdale (or maybe Key West). With a number approaching two dozen politicians running for major statewide office on the Republican ballot on Tuesday, we are talking about a tidy little nest egg for yours truly.
 
It is true there was some variation among the candidates on social issues like abortion and gay marriage, but the past year has in general been a contest to see which Republican could talk the toughest (and most conservatively) about kicking the collective behind of Congress. This was fairly predictable from a political discourse perspective, as there is a long tradition of candidates running to the right in Republican primaries. The contests often become a battle among candidates to be seen as the true conservative in whichever primary field they are competing.
 
But there was also a time last year when newly-minted Republican nominee Kelly Ayotte was thought to hold out the potential for a classic New Hampshire center-right coalition of independents and Republicans. The question now is whether her hard drive to the right during the primaries has boxed her into a corner ideologically, and perhaps created some space for her opponent Democratic Rep. Paul Hodes to paint her as more extreme than might have otherwise been the case. Of course, given the close finish we just saw with Ovide Lamontagne, the coalitional strategy might not have been a realistic option for her, anyway.
 
So, we shall see whether Ayotte adapts her conservative rhetoric for the general election. I think everyone (including Hodes) will be running hard right on federal spending and deficits. But there is a distinct language that conservatives use when running within a Republican primary that doesn’t always translate well to the general election, and we've heard plenty of it over the past year. In the coming weeks, I’ll be listening closely to hear whether any of the Republican nominees do indeed adopt a more general election-friendly political discourse.
 
Note: Back posting on Tuesday.


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