Ayotte concession concludes N.H.'s down-to-the-line Senate race

The Republican incumbent lost her seat by a margin of just over 1,000 votes, echoing the similarly-tight presidential contest in the Granite State.

Elise Amendola/ AP
New Hampshire Democratic Senate candidate, Gov. Maggie Hassan speaks to media, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016, outside a polling place in Portsmouth, N.H.

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton narrowly eked out enough support Tuesday to capture New Hampshire's four electoral votes, but the margin in the state's closely watched US Senate race was even smaller, highlighting the state's changing demographics, and a streak of skepticism towards partisan politics.

Republican incumbent Sen. Kelly Ayotte conceded Wednesday afternoon to her opponent, Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, who had already claimed victory hours earlier, as the New Hampshire secretary of State's office showed Governor Hassan with a lead of just 1,023 votes out of 738,420 counted – less than one-seventh of one percent.

A preliminary tally in the presidential race, meanwhile, showed Mrs. Clinton with a 2,687-vote lead out of 731,838 ballots, not counting write-in votes, as the New Hampshire Union Leader reported.

"This is a critical time for New Hampshire and our country, and now more than ever, we need to work together to address our challenges," Senator Ayotte, who won her six-year term in the 2010 mid-term elections, said during her concession speech. "The voters have spoken and now it's time for all of us to come together to get things done for the people of the greatest state in this nation and for the greatest country on Earth."

The race was among several nationwide that political observers thought might swing the Senate to a Democratic majority, but that prospect faded quickly Tuesday night as election results poured in, pointing not only to Republican majorities in both Congressional chambers but also to a victory for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

After insisting for months that she would support Mr. Trump but not endorse him, Ayotte took back her backing in October, saying she would instead vote for Republican vice presidential candidate Mike Pence as a write-in candidate for president. Governor Hassan had frequently tied Ayotte to Trump, arguing that she demonstrated poor judgment by supporting him in the first place then backing out when it became politically expedient.

Ayotte, who had cast Hassan as unwilling to stand up to Democratic leaders, sought to portray herself as independent and willing to oppose high-level Republicans – an understandable strategy, given the fact that New Hampshire's political demographics have been shifting in recent decades, as The Christian Science Monitor reported:

"This is not a straight-ticket state any longer," Frank Cohen, an associate professor of political science at Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, N.H., tells the Monitor.

Not since the late 1980s has New Hampshire been considered "bedrock Republican" territory, he says, explaining that the state's elections have seesawed back and forth between Republican and Democratic control in recent decades.

As demographics have shifted, New Hampshire voters have drifted toward the center, he says.

"In this state, I think it’s still important for Republicans and Democrats to come across as moderates," Dr. Cohen explains, suggesting that New Hampshire politics are far less polarized than the national level. Officially, 44 percent of N.H. voters are registered independent, compared to 30 percent Republicans and 26 percent Democrats.

Hassan said on Wednesday that she would collaborate with the coming Trump administration to the extent that doing so would serve her state's interests, opposing him when needed.

Hassan is the second woman in American history to serve as a state governor and US senator. The first was Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, another Democrat from New Hampshire.

"We know that this election exposed very serious divisions in our country, and it's up to all of us – elected leaders and citizens – now to come together and focus on our common challenges and our common opportunities," Hassan said. "Our work going forward is going to be to remember what unites us as Americans and how we can make progress together."

Although the presidential election was extremely close throughout much of the United States, New Hampshire's particularly narrow margin may reflect not only its moderate streak, but voters' particularly independent view toward partisan politics, with more Granite Staters registered as independents than in either major party. 

"These folks are used to retail politics," Dr. Cohen told the Monitor on Tuesday. "It's a small state. They’ve seen these candidates speak. They've seen lots of appearances. They're pretty conscientious voters."

Material from The Associated Press was included in this report.

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