Portsmouth Press Herald: The battle behind the battle for N.H. governor
By Michael McCord
The gubernatorial race debates and campaigns of Democrat Maggie Hassan of Exeter and Republican Ovide Lamontagne of Manchester have followed typical party and ideological lines and had a normal amount of rough-and-tumble tactics.
What has changed in 2012 is the latest step in the escalation and evolution of greater amounts of money being poured into the governor’s race, raising both its national profile and stakes to a new level. It is creating a parallel campaign universe that complements other campaigns but can confound voters.
For example, the television ads by the campaigns for top contenders for the New Hampshire’s governor’s seat are mostly positive. But viewers may have noticed the campaigns are being overshadowed on the airwaves by the aggressive presence of outside political action groups whose themes are far more confrontational.
Consider one ad by Hassan, titled “The Difference,” which focuses on her experiences as a state senator in making tough budget decisions while providing a vision of business develop, and freezing tuition costs at the state’s universities and colleges.
Hassan also promises to follow in the footsteps of popular Gov. John Lynch and veto any income or sales tax proposal.
“Jobs,” an ad by Lamontagne, focuses on his “prosperity agenda” and to make job creation his top priority. He promises to cut taxes, reform state government, support education while fostering the best jobs environment in the country.
In an earlier ad titled “Heart,” Lamontagne talked about his hometown values and four generations of Granite State roots.
Two ads by the Republican Governor’s Association through a Washington, D.C.-based Live Free PAC accuse Hassan, the former Senate majority leader, of supporting taxes and fee hikes in the past and likely wanting to do more.
“Maggie Hassan isn’t being completely honest with the voters about what she would do as governor either,” said Mike Schrimpf, the RGA’s communications director. “Despite raising taxes and fees by $300 million the last time she held office, Maggie Hassan is eyeing more tax hikes.”
The Democratic Governors Association, through its New Hampshire Freedom Fund PAC, wasted no time in releasing a television ad titled “Meet Ovide Lamontagne,” which highlights his resume as a lawyer lobbyist for the tobacco industry who wants to make Medicare a state-run program and advocates an extreme social agenda and tea party issues.
“We’re gonna win this and spend what it takes,” said the DGA’s Mark Giangreco. “This race is one of our top priorities and we have confidence that our candidate will win this race if she has the resources to communicate her message.”
According to FCC-mandated filings with WMUR in Manchester, the DGA has spent $2 million in New Hampshire so far while the RGA has spent $1.6 million in support of Lamontagne.
Depending on their designation, some groups can coordinate with the campaigns and others aren’t legally allowed to. Perhaps as many as a dozen non-campaign groups will eventually make their money and presence felt before the Nov. 6 election, and this reflects the new reality of nationalizing statewide political races, according to veteran political analyst Dean Spiliotes at Southern New Hampshire University.
“I’ve seen a number of these ads and they tend to create caricatures that push the competing narratives we see in the polarized nature of our political debate,” Spiliotes said.
The simultaneous rise of social media in politics, which coincided with the Citizen’s United decision by the Supreme Court that loosened campaign finance restrictions, has led to a new political environment.
Non-campaign communication efforts are targeted less at independent and undecided voters than at mobilizing base voters.
“With issues such as abortions and women’s health, Right to Work, taxes and gay marriage, we are seeing a competitive mobilization, and voters are picking from more distinct competing world views,” Spiliotes said.
He believes 2012 could be like 2004 — an election dependent less on the ever-dwindling number of undecided voters than on getting out the base vote to support candidates who espouse their respective causes.
That means targeting voters on specific issues. For the past month, the Lamontagne campaign has sent reporters a daily release focusing on Hassan’s record on taxes.
The conservative-leaning Americans for Prosperity-N.H. released a radio ad last month attacking Hassan for her support of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI, which Republican lawmakers in New Hampshire consider a wasteful program and unnecessary rate hike on Granite State consumers.
“Despite the fact that New Hampshire ratepayers were already paying some of the highest electricity rates in the country, Maggie Hassan proudly sponsored legislation that raised their rates and taxed them even more,” said Corey R. Lewandowski, state director of Americans for Prosperity-N.H. “The policies she is proud of are hurting New Hampshire families and small businesses.”
Hassan has been supported by television ads and direct-mail communications from New Hampshire WOMEN VOTE! set up by the national organization EMILY’s List and is targeted at 50,000 women in the state.
One ad has women from across the state speaking to the camera and saying Lamontagne has an anti-woman agenda with his proposals for women’s health care and abortion.
“From claiming that women’s health care was ‘not a topical issue,’ to his dismissive reference to critical issues as ‘women’s rights, whatever they may be,’ Lamontagne has made it perfectly clear that he is just another out-of-touch Republican extremist who is determined to roll back the clock on women’s rights and opportunities,” said Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY’s List, about a $500,000 ad buy announced last week.
So far, Hassan has the edge in outside support and has received, or will receive, support from the National Education Association Advocacy Fund, the State Employees Association through the Service Employees International Union Committee on Political Education, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and the Planned Parenthood of Northern New England Action Fund NH-PAC.
Spiliotes believes more Republican-leaning outside groups will likely step up. But given the deep political polarization in New Hampshire, he said the winner of the governor’s race will likely not be determined by who has the greatest amount of outside support or who has the largest campaign funding advantage. It will be determined by whether Democratic President Barack Obama or Republican challenger Mitt Romney wins the state at the presidential level, because there won’t be much ballot splitting.