Senate elections 101: N.H. shapes up as carpetbagger vs. rubber stamp

New Hampshire's Senate candidates, Republican Scott Brown and incumbent Democrat Jeanne Shaheen, have defined each other clearly.

Jim Cole/AP
Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (l.) shakes hands with her Republican opponent, former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, before a live televised debate for the Senate at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., Thursday.

The Monitor's "Senate elections 101" series looks at the specific issues that will be driving voters in each of the 10 tossup races.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Republican challenger Scott Brown have framed New Hampshire’s Senate race as a showdown between the Carpetbagger and the Rubber Stamp.

Senator Shaheen contrasts her longtime experience in the Granite State, including six years as governor and nearly six as a US senator, with Mr. Brown, who was born in New Hampshire and has long owned a vacation home, but moved here after losing his 2012 bid for reelection as a senator from Massachusetts.

The tagline for many of Shaheen’s ads: “Scott Brown is for Scott Brown, not New Hampshire.”

Brown has attempted to make the race a forum on President Obama, whose favorability rating in New Hampshire has sunk to about 40 percent. His mantra: Shaheen has voted with Obama 99 percent of the time. That figure stems from a report about votes this year on issues about which Obama expressed a view.

For challengers, “it’s the best strategy in a midterm election…. You tie the millstone of an unpopular president around [your opponent’s] neck,” says Andrew Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center in Durham.

Brown frequently links Shaheen to Obamacare and to what he sees as the Obama administration’s mishandling of everything from the jihadist Islamic State to the Ebola outbreak.

He’s also emphasized his military experience and strong commitment to securing US borders. During their final debate Thursday night, after Shaheen said she agreed with not having a large occupying force in Iraq, Brown pounced: “We’re a liberating force … and I and every other person who has served in the military resents that you are calling us occupiers.”

Shaheen has pushed back against the rubber stamp label by citing her record defending the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and working on behalf of small businesses in the state. “I get up every day putting New Hampshire first,” she said during Thursday’s debate.

Her ads against Brown – linking him to big oil, big banks, and companies that outsource jobs abroad – have attempted to make Brown just as unappealing in voters’ eyes as Obama.

“The enthusiasm gap that had been favoring Republicans has dissipated to the point where it’s essentially tied,” Mr. Smith says.

In the latest WMUR Granite State Poll from the UNH Survey Center, Shaheen was up 47 percent to Brown’s 45 percent, a lead well within the poll’s margin of error.

Voters here are accustomed to “filtering out the national narrative” and demanding politicians meet them face to face, which both candidates have done well, says Dean Spiliotes, a political scientist and longtime political analyst here.

But Brown has hit the rubber stamp theme so hard that “he hasn’t developed an alternative vision of where he would take the state,” Mr. Spiliotes says, so it seems unlikely Brown can overcome the political capital that Shaheen has built up here for decades.

The race is still close however, and Brown may be able to pull it off if “Republicans have a really, really good night nationwide” on Tuesday, says Christopher Galdieri, a politics professor at St. Anselm College in Manchester.

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