Tuesday Reckoning in NH: Fighting for Soul of America?

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By GARRY RAYNO, Distant Dome

After months of open warfare on the campaign circuit, voters will finally have their say Tuesday on who should represent them.

Many believe this midterm election is the most important in decades and will set the country’s course well into the future.

Garry Rayno

Democrats and Republicans are in a pitched battle for the soul of America with President Donald Trump the center of the struggle.

Whether this fray becomes a conflagration or a turn to unification will be clearer after Tuesday’s vote.

Trump has traveled the country trying to help GOP US Senate candidates so his party maintains control of the upper chamber if not add to its majority.

He has held 35 campaign rallies since that are as much about his 2020 reelection campaign as they are about GOP Senators or Governors. He uses the rallies to energize his base by focusing on immigration and crime and demonizing Democrats for all the problems he lists.

While Trump turns up the heat on fear, anger and resentment to turn out his voters, he also energizes Democrats who want to halt the free rein he has enjoyed for two years because the GOP controls Congress.

Trump has said he wants the midterm elections to be about him, and he has been successful.

But all this campaigning by a sitting president has turned conventional wisdom upside down this election cycle with races that should not be close that are and once safe seats now toss ups.

Big money and prominent politicians are pouring into the dozen key US Senate races that determine whether the Senate remains in GOP hands.

The US House is even more in play with many seats expected to switch parties with millions of dollars spent on close races that determine if a blue wave swamps GOP control.

Eddie Edwards

Media ads are everywhere and become less truthful as the election nears and the races close in the final days including New Hampshire for the Chris Pappas and Eddie Edwards first Congressional District race.

While most believe Democrat Pappas has the inside track, the GOP has dumped money into ads portraying him as member of the “resistance” while the Democratic Congressional Committee recently dumped about $700,000 into media ads to both tout Pappas and criticize Edwards particularly his statement about weening people off Social Security.

Chris Pappas

Compared to the national scene, the New Hampshire top three races have been fairly polite although the governors race between Republican incumbent Chris Sununu and Democrat Molly Kelly has had several heated debates and some pointed ads.

In the Second Congressional District, Democratic incumbent Annie McLane Kuster has a war chest that would drown even the best of GOP challengers.

GOP candidate Steve Negron, a conservative running in the Democratic leaning district, has had a difficult time finding real traction and the money to compete with Kuster’s media buys.

There is no US Senate race this election in New Hampshire: one reason the political atmosphere has been fairly polite. In two years, that is not likely to hold if the race for US Senate features incumbent Democrat Jeanne Shaheen and Sununu as many expect.

The Granite State’s more engaged races are further down the ballot in the executive council and state Senate.

David Wheeler

The gerrymandering done by Republicans after the 2010 election when they held 75 percent of the seats in the House and Senate has a big influence on the outcomes in many races.

Debora Pignatelli

In the executive council’s five districts, Democrats were competitive in all five districts before they were redrawn and now Democrats control District 2 and will until it is redrawn, but have no chance in District 3 and little chance in Districts 4 and 5. District 1 is also difficult for Democrats.

However, District 5 pits former councilor Debora Pignatelli against GOP incumbent David Wheeler in a race that could go either way.

Pappas left the District 4 seat to run for Congress, but two well-known Manchester names seek to replace him, former Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas on the GOP side and former Dyn and Silver Tech executive Gray Chynoweth for the Democrats. This is a Republican-leaning district, but this should be a good race, as should District 1, which sounds like a broken record with GOP incumbent Joe Kenney and Democrat Michael Cryans facing off once again.

The state Senate was redrawn so the very best Democrats could do would be a 12-12 split. For the two elections after the districts were changed, Democratic votes for senators outnumbered those for Republicans, but the closest Dems came to a majority was  11-13.

Some key races could make it interesting for Senate President Chuck Morse who has said this will be his final term leading the Senate if the GOP retains control.

There are five or six races that could swing the balance including District 16 where former Sen. David Boutin is challenging Democratic incumbent Kevin Cavanaugh who won the seat in a special election against Boutin.

Sen. Ruth Ward

GOP incumbent Sen. Dan Innis faces a strong challenge from Rep. Tom Sherman for the District 24 seat, and GOP incumbent Sen. Ruth Ward is being challenged by Democrat Jenn Alford-Teaster for the District 8 seat.

Other races that should be interesting are GOP incumbent Sen. Kevin Avard and Democrat Melanie Levesque in District 12 and GOP incumbent Sen. James Gray and Democrat Anne Grassie in District 6.

Sen. Kevin Avard

The vacant District 9 seat will feature Republican Dan Hynes against Democrat Jeanie Dietsch.

Republicans currently hold a 14-10 majority in the Senate.

On the national level the party of the President usually loses seats in the House and Senate in his or her first midterm election, and certainly the US House appears to be following history.

In New Hampshire, things don’t fall so nicely into a neat pattern and the top of the ticket has more to do with what happens in races down ballot.

But to have a significant impact, the top of the ticket has to align with one party and that is not going to happen this election.

Sununu may win big in the governor’s contest, but the next race down the ticket is the Congressional contests and Democrats will do well if not win both.

So that sets the stage for voters to be selective as they move down the ballot. If they are not familiar with the candidates, anything can happen.

Democrats set a record number of votes in the September primary while Republicans had one of their poorest turnouts in some time.

However the general election is a new day, and both parties have done all they could to generate enthusiasm and energize their bases.

The only thing left to do is to make sure they turn out their voters on Tuesday.

At this point, it’s all over but the voting.

And whatever you do, make sure you vote Tuesday because the direction of the country and your state will be decided.

Garry Rayno may be reached at garry.rayno@yahoo.com

Distant Dome by veteran journalist Garry Rayno explores a broader perspective on the State House and state happenings. Over his three-decade career, Rayno covered the NH State House for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Foster’s Daily Democrat. During his career, his coverage spanned the news spectrum, from local planning, school and select boards, to national issues such as electric industry deregulation and Presidential primaries. Rayno lives with his wife Carolyn in New London.

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