EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 9, 2012

N.H. political parties must build for future

Elections over, N.H. political parties must plan for future

By John Toole jtoole@eagletribune.com
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — Representative-elect Mary Till last week defied conventional wisdom, which holds Democrats are unlikely to win a House seat from Derry.

When word of her victory reached former state Democratic Party chairman Kathy Sullivan via Twitter on election night, Sullivan was herself moved to tweet: "Wow!"

Till was one of four Democrats campaigning for 10 seats in Derry. Two of them – town Democratic chairman Betsy Burtis was the other – managed to win.

Till's story is a lesson in political party building, something much on the minds of New Hampshire Democrats and Republicans for very different reasons.

Rep. Terie Norelli, D-Portsmouth, acknowledged the Democrats' successes in claiming House seats in Republican-dominated Derry, as well as neighboring Londonderry. Norelli is seeking to return to the speaker's office.

Sometimes places are regarded as Republican strongholds, but candidates can make a difference, Norelli said.

"If you don't have candidates who speak up and go door-to-door," she said, "they will stay Republican."

Mary Till made a difference. The retired social worker and engineer did so by following Norelli's simple strategy.

"I must have knocked on 1,000 doors," Till said. "I spoke with Democrats, Republicans and independents. I found most people were reasonable."

It took time.

"Between 10 and 20 hours a week since the middle of August, a couple of hours a night and 10 hours on the weekend," Till said.

Democrats need a little faith, in Till's opinion.

"Believing in themselves" is what will help the party build on successes in future elections, she said.

"We had four Democrats to fill 10 slots," she said. "We have had a hard time recruiting people. They don't think they can win."

Sarah Gannon-Weston, who heads the Democratic committee in Danville, said Democrats have to get out the vote.

"We have to continue to mobilize Democratic voters in our area," she said.

But Democrats also have to deliver in office, Gannon-Weston said.

"We have to help people in our communities thrive," she said.

Democrat Jim Splaine, a former 30-year legislator, wants Democrats to reach out to Republicans.

"I have a suggestion for my fellow Democrats that might help solidify their support for the next election and beyond, and also help us solve problems," Splaine said. "It's daring, but why don't we all try to reach out in this divided state and country to find our commonality?"

Society is facing serious problems and can't afford to keep having winners with a lot of losers, Splaine said.

"We all have to win," he said.

St. Anselm College assistant professor Chris Galdieri sees Gov.-elect Maggie Hassan as a key player for the Democrats moving forward.

"Throughout the campaign, Gov.-elect Hassan aggressively presented herself as a problem solver first and foremost, very much in the style of outgoing Gov. (John) Lynch," he said. "I think that maintaining that course is the best way for Hassan and the Democrats in the Legislature to proceed."

Republicans are in a different place than Democrats after the election, pondering the reversals.

"The worst thing Republicans can do is overreact," said Kevin Smith, runnerup to Ovide Lamontagne in the GOP gubernatorial primary. "There are great opportunities for Republicans to rebound and come back. Two years from now, the Republicans are going to have to offer a very positive vision for the state."

Smith sees potential for GOP gains if the economy continues to struggle.

"The Democrats are going to own the economy," he said.

So, it's imperative for Republicans to convince voters they are better at dealing with economic issues, to successfully make the case, he said, "why they are the best ones."

Now, Republicans have to thoughtfully look at what happened.

"We've got to regroup and do an analysis of why the election went the way it did Tuesday," Smith said.

There is reassessment going on among Republicans. But there's disagreement over whether the problem was the message, the messengers or the message delivery system.

"I think the Republican Party had better take a real close look at what just happened, nationally and at the state level," said Rep. David Kidder, R-New London. "The right wing has been repudiated. If we are honest when we look at that, we will move back toward the middle."

Rep. Marilinda Garcia, R-Salem, reflecting on the losses last week, said Republicans need to stay true to their principles. She's confident voters will come around as Democrats pursue a path of increased spending and taxes.

As a Republican activist, Smith has roots in the party's social issues. But, as a candidate, his campaign focused on business development and tax reform. He believes that is the key moving forward.

"Republicans will win by keeping their focus and message on jobs and the economy," Smith said.

A big part of the Democratic success was the party's ability to get out the vote.

"That ended up being a significant advantage for them," Smith said.

Republicans, he said, need to respond by being better organized.

Galdieri said the election results amount to a strong repudiation of the path the Legislature has taken since 2010.

"Republicans now face a tricky challenge in distinguishing themselves from the Democrats — without bringing back voters' memories of the O'Brien-era Legislature," Galdieri said. "One way to do that might be use their position in the Senate not as a blockade, but as a means for extracting meaningful policy concessions and changes that they could then point to as resulting directly from their actions."

Windham GOP chairman Travis Blais believes Republicans remain in good shape looking forward.

"Despite the setback statewide, New Hampshire Republicans are alive and well, especially in the southern tier," he said. "Windham, Salem and other towns are sending back all-GOP delegations to Concord. This includes Jim Rausch and Chuck Morse as part of a state Senate majority that will now serve as our primary check on the Democrats' temptation to return to their big spending, big taxing ways of 2006-2010."

Republicans see hope beyond New Hampshire, too.

Garcia looks at the national scene and finds Democrats banking on the same old voices — the Clintons, Joe Biden — while the Republicans have a deep talent pool coming along to create enthusiasm for elections in 2014 and 2016.

"On the Republican side are all kinds of very strong governors, like Susana Martinez and Nikki Haley. We have a new senator in Texas, Ted Cruz. There's Paul Ryan, who ran for vice president. There's Kelly (Ayotte) in New Hampshire and Marco Rubio in Florida," Garcia said. "They are young and diverse. We have a lot more to work with."

Smith shares that view.

"The Republicans have a great bench," Smith said. "It's almost an embarassment of riches."