Flipping Through the Yearbook, Crystal Ball Edition
You can catch me Thursday morning, September 29th, as a guest on New Hampshire Public Radio’s The Exchange. As part of the show’s 15th anniversary series, Exchange Yearbook, we will be wrapping up the series with a wide-ranging discussion of what the future holds for New Hampshire politics. You can listen to the show live here at 9 a.m. (top menu), or check out the podcast later here.
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Now What?
Now what? That was the question I heard asked by some New Hampshire Democrats over the weekend, after learning that Governor John Lynch will not seek a fifth two-year term in office. The question is an implicit recognition of the reality for local Democrats that the recruitment pool for Lynch’s successor was decimated by the big statewide Republican gains in the 2010 midterm elections. As I have often noted, the genius of Lynch’s governing style is in his ability to present himself as the quintessential non-politician politician, an approach which I have seen few others at that level of elective office replicate with success. So, Lynch will be difficult to replace for that reason alone.
But there is a deeper structural issue here that is problematic for Democratic recruitment. Lynch’s popular centrist political tendencies are really a throwback to 1990s-style Democratic politics, as embodied in the ideological positioning of politicians like Bill Clinton and Jeanne Shaheen (especially as governor), and in now defunct grassroots organizations like the Democratic Leadership Council. By the time of the landmark Democratic victories in 2006 and 2008, however, that paradigm had largely been supplanted by progressives who brought a much more explicitly liberal partisan bent to Democratic politics in the Granite State, one which worked well for them until 2010.
Given last year’s depressing midterm election results for Democrats, and the inhospitable political environment they still face, my guess is that anyone recruited up through the local progressive ranks during those years (that is still standing politically) would have a difficult time staging a comeback to retain the governorship for Democrats. Like Lynch, a viable candidate will likely have to come from somewhere else in the party, but, in my conversations with Democrats over the weekend, no one seemed to know from where.
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Perry and Thrust
I am sure I wasn’t the only person to be disappointed by the artificially contrived format for last night’s Republican presidential debate on MSNBC. I understand the media outlet’s desire to capitalize on the interest surrounding Texas Governor Rick Perry’s entrance into the race and his quick rise in the polls, and 10 to 15 minutes of Perry-vetting on the front end of the debate would have been fine. But the moderators’ focus on manufacturing conflict around Perry throughout the entire debate, coupled with John Harris’ surprisingly rocky stint as co-host, proved to be fatiguing as the night wore on.
Given that Rick Perry was the guest of honor last night, my sense is that he did ok, although I am not yet convinced that he is optimally positioned to unite the Republican Party as its nominee. He was a bit too ideologically constrained and repetitive in his answers, and he clearly needs to dig deeper into his briefing books on some issues. But he probably did well enough to further consolidate the Tea Party crowd behind his candidacy, much to the chagrin of Michele Bachmann (and probably Sarah Palin, for that matter).
My big hesitation with Perry continues to be whether he can serve as a bridge between movement conservatives and establishment moderates in the party. I think the verdict is still out on that question, especially after watching Mitt Romney outflank him with his defense of Social Security. Romney, by the way, had a fine night, and I think there is a danger in underestimating him simply because he doesn’t evoke passion from the Tea Party crowd with the intensity that Perry, Bachmann, and Palin do. I understand the electoral potency of the Tea Party movement, but also the limitations of an overly narrow view of the Republican primary electorate.
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You can catch me as a guest tomorrow morning on WKXL news radio’s New Hampshire Now (103.9 FM, 1450 AM). I will be joining host Chris Ryan around 10:30 a.m. (as I do every Thursday morning), in order to discuss tonight’s Republican candidate debate (8 p.m. on MSNBC) at the Reagan Presidential Library in California. You can also listen to tomorrow's show live (or later by podcast) on the web here.
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Search Party Politics
From what I have been reading and hearing over the past few days, it sounds like Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann went missing from New Hampshire while I was away on vacation last week. Former state Republican Party chair Fergus Cullen, among others, has taken Bachmann to task for her dearth of retail politicking in the Granite State. My question to the Bachmann search party is why is this surprising?
As I have argued here many times before, Bachmann’s natural constituency (and the reason for her rise to national prominence) is located in the social and religious conservative core of the Tea Party, which makes her an uneasy fit for the demographics of New Hampshire’s Republican primary voting electorate. It is the same reason why former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin’s visits to the state have been so few and far between since 2008 (this weekend’s Tea Party Express appearance notwithstanding).
Bachmann’s best hope is to replicate former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee’s path in 2008, only with better results. A win in the Iowa Caucus could conceivably set her up to compete in South Carolina, but, as was true for Huckabee, I don’t think it will make a huge difference for her here, which is why it is a reasonable strategic decision by her campaign to direct the candidate and resources elsewhere. I am tempted to make the same argument about Texas Governor Rick Perry, but some politicos in New Hampshire have passionately argued to me that Perry’s situation (and potential as a bridge candidate) is very different. So, I am withholding judgment until I can get a better read on how he plays here.
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