Sen. Jim Rausch, R-Derry, stood in the Adams Memorial Opera House 16 months ago and endorsed Mitt Romney for president.
Rausch did not know then he would be a participant in a historically close New Hampshire election with neck-and-neck races up and down the ballot.
On Tuesday, voters will learn whether Rausch’s prediction then was right: “Mitt Romney is the most qualified candidate running for president and the only Republican who can beat Barack Obama in 2012.”
Rausch is himself expected to win re-election against Democrat Christopher Reisdorf in their Republican-leaning state Senate district. Romney’s fate is more in doubt, but Rausch is encouraged.
“I am optimistically hopeful,” he said last week. “I still believe he is the candidate who can make improvements to the economy and create jobs to put us on the right track.”
Optimism extends across the political aisle.
New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Raymond Buckley issued an appeal for donations just six days before the election, laying out the party’s prospects for success at every level. “On to victory!” Buckley challenged the troops.
Most recent polls give Obama a slight edge over Romney in New Hampshire, but within the margin of error.
It is not the only close race.
Democrat Maggie Hassan last week had a narrow lead over Republican Ovide Lamontagne in polling for the governor’s race.
Rematches had Republican incumbent Congressmen Charles Bass and Frank Guinta in close races with their Democratic challengers, Ann McLane Kuster and former Congressman Carol Shea-Porter, respectively.
Granite State Republicans rode a Tea Party landslide to legislative control two years ago. But they have long conceded they will lose seats from their strong majorities in the Legislature.
A recent University of New Hampshire analysis projected Democrats could take control of the House, 204-196.
Republican blogger Steve Vaillancourt in early October projected a 201-198 GOP advantage. Democratic blogger William Tucker last week projected the Democrats with 184 of the 400 seats.
Any of those outcomes would imperil the controversial speakership of Republican William O’Brien, should he win his own re-election campaign in Mont Vernon. Voters appear ready for change in Concord. Only 42 percent approved of the Legislature in UNH polling.
Tight race, ballot blowout
Election outcomes through New Hampshire history establish 2012 as potentially the closest finish ever.
In the six tightest presidential contests since 1900 – 1916, 1948, 1960, 1968, 1976 and 2000 – New Hampshire voters have delivered at least one blowout, with a margin of 8 percent or better, down the ballot in a race for governor, U.S. Senate or Congress.
There’s probably a reason for the close races this time, Southern New Hampshire University political science professor Dean Spiliotes said.
“It’s probably a symptom of the volatility in the state and polarization of the electorate,” he said.
These days, the candidates are on the left or the right, not so much in the middle, with voters forced to move to one side or the other in a close election like this one, he said.
“New Hampshire is not an island. When you have an election at the national level that looks 50-50,” UNH political science professor Dante Scala said, “you end up with a presidential race in New Hampshire that is close to that.”
New Hampshire is the Democratic leaning bellwether it has been for 20 years now, Scala said.
But there are local factors at play, too.
“If John Lynch is running against Ovide Lamontagne, I don’t think it’s that close,” Scala said.
Spiliotes said everything is too close to call. Obama might have a razor’s edge in the electoral college and how he does will drive a lot of what happens down the ballot, he said.
Chris Galdieri, St. Anselm College assistant professor of politics, said he sees Obama slightly ahead of Romney. He said Hassan is likely to come out on top. He’s closely watching the Bass-Kuster race.
“The Bass versus Kuster race could be a good sign of how the night is going to go for both parties nationwide,” Galdieri said.
Scala drew a football analogy when asked to make predictions Thursday afternoon.
“It’s like there are two minutes left in the fourth quarter right now. The Democrats are up a field goal and I think they have the ball,” he said. “Can they run out the clock or can the Republicans make something happen? We know teams overcome three-point deficits in the fourth quarter with a couple of minutes left.”
Mobilizing voters will matter
The key for Democrats will be organization and getting out the vote, Galdieri said.
“The Obama campaign has a much larger presence in the state than Romney’s does, just in the sheer number of offices and staffers it has around the state,” he said. “If they are able to find and turn out all of the voters they’ve identified, that will make Obama and other Democrats likely to win.”
Republicans have to convince voters they can do better on the jobs and economy, Galdieri said.
“Both parties have a tough sell to make on this front,” he said. “Obama can point to a recovery that is ongoing and sluggish and Romney can argue that the recovery is too sluggish, but neither candidate can make their case without refuting some of their argument.”
The election now comes down to mobilization and turnout, getting as many people to the polls as possible, Spiliotes said.
“You don’t want partisans to be discouraged,” he said. “That’s kind of the psychology of both parties.”
Scala agrees on the importance of the campaign ground games. The campaigns have to know their voters and get them out, he said.
Romney has to hope he gets a big, late break in undecided voters, Scala said.
“He needs a significant break his way,” he said.
The voters to watch, Scala said, are the blue collar workers with high school educations, especially women.
“This is a group that is key to both sides,” he said.
Hassan, for example, will get votes from college educated professional women. “She also needs to do well with women who are not like her,” Scala said.
Voters also will decide several ballot questions, the most watched a proposed income tax ban. UNH polling showed respondents favoring the ban – 44 percent to 34 percent – but by far less than the two-thirds approval needed for passage.
The Secretary of State’s Office has predicted record turnout of 722,000, about 70 percent of the voting age population in the state.
The election of 2012 will be remembered as one where every vote really did count.
“Small margins in this election will make a difference,” Spiliotes said.
Tight races, ballot blowouts
The 2012 election could be the closest ever in New Hampshire up and down the ballot.
Here’s a look at tight presidential races through the years and contests down the ballot that produced blowouts.
1916: Woodrow Wilson beats Charles Evans Hughes. Wilson carries N.H.
Henry Keyes defeats John Hutchings for governor, 53 percent to 45 percent.
1948: Harry Truman beats Thomas Dewey. Dewey carries N.H.
Norris Cotton defeats Richard Leonard for Congress, 57 percent to 42 percent.
1960: John Kennedy beats Richard Nixon. Nixon carries N.H.
Wesley Powell beats Bernard Boutin for governor, 55 percent to 45 percent.
1968: Richard Nixon beats Hubert Humphrey. Nixon carries N.H.
Norris Cotton beats John King for Senate, 59 percent to 40 percent.
976: Jimmy Carter beats Gerald Ford. Ford carries N.H.
Mel Thomson beats Harry Spanos for governor, 58 percent to 40 percent.
2000: George W. Bush beats Al Gore. Bush carries N.H.
John E. Sununu beats Martha Fuller Clark for Congress, 53 percent to 45 percent.