Is Steve Merrill nervous?

In 1994 Republican Steve Merrill was re-elected governor with 70 percent of the vote. Wayne King was the Democratic bystander. The GOP wound up with 18 state Senate seats. The Democrats went home with a six-pack. In 1998 Democrat Jeanne Shaheen was re-elected governor with 66 percent of the vote. Jay Lucas was the Republican bystander. The Democrats won control of the state Senate for the first time since World War I. Does 2006 belong in the same paragraph? Today's poll result from the UNH Survey Center and WMUR suggests it does. John Lynch was the choice of 71 percent of those surveyed. Jim Coburn came in at 18 percent.

One curiosity to follow up on before you go to the bank on Lynch's topping 70 percent: The people who responded to the poll are divided among self-identified Democrats, Republicans and independents, and nearly half called themselves Democrats. The numbers look more realistic when the voters are divided by party registration, but I wonder if this sample tilts too far to the left. (Note: This is a tracking poll, so I imagine the sample will balance out as the survey rolls through the end of the week.) Regardless, Lynch is still going to win big. (Coburn's lead among self-described Republicans is within the margin of error). I'm suggesting only that Merrill need not fret about being upstaged just yet.

UPDATE: What is Lynch's secret? This quote in Dan Barrick's campaign story Thursday says a lot: "People tell me he acts like the governor of New Hampshire, not the leader of any particular political party," said Senate Majority Leader Bob Clegg, one of the GOP's toughest gunslingers. "He's not speaking like one party is better than any other."

Race for the state Senate

In case you haven't seen it on the Monitor's Campaign 2006 page, here's a link to an interactive map of the state Senate races, which was built by Monitor artist Charlotte Thibault. From there you can also link to the secretary of state's handy tool for finding out which Senate district you live in.

Blushing George Allen

With so many election-season letters to the editor, we have little space for syndicated columnists on our opinion pages this week. So here's a passage from George Will's latest, which you can read in full at the Washington Post website:

"(George) Allen, who makes no secret of finding life as a senator tedious, is fighting ferociously for another term, a fate from which his Democratic opponent, Jim Webb, is close to rescuing him. As a result, Allen is dabbling in literary criticism. He has read, or someone has read for him, at least some of Webb's six fine novels, finding therein sexual passages that have caused Allen -- he of the football metaphors, cowboy regalia and Copenhagen smokeless tobacco -- to blush like a fictional Victorian maiden."

Will goes on to make the case that Allen's performance as a Senate candidate this year is good news for Mitt Romney and bad news for John McCain. Helping Will make the point is "one seasoned New Hampshire Republican" who says, regarding McCain, "It is difficult to capture lightning in a bottle twice." You don't suppose this unnamed Republican is a supporter of Romney, do you?

UPDATE: For those with more interest in the Allen-Webb Senate race, Meg Heckman points to this New Yorker story.

Capital Beat extra: NH loves YouTube

We've already told you about the fuzzy duck opining on "The Lazy Lynch Tax," and last week Monitor reporter Chelsea Conaboy took a peek at congressional candidate Paul Hodes's foray into YouTube. But New Hampshire political junkies will find plenty more home videos and amateur documentaries on the site. A quick Cap Beat search (e.g., "Hampshire" and filter to "News & Blogs") yielded hours of footage.

You can watch a half-dozen possible '08ers stump their way through picnics and fundraisers or catch sound bites from the Dems' Jefferson-Jackson Dinner last month. (Note: The sound quality gets spotty, but that might be a blessing considering the background music. What is that? The theme from Rocky?) Chuck Douglas's Property Protection Alliance of New Hampshire posted three straitlaced videos supporting a constitutional amendment to limit the use of eminent domain. Several candidates for the New Hampshire House discuss their campaigns. And, new yesterday, is a recap of a GOP plot to jam Democrats' get-out-the-vote phone banks on Election Day 2002.

Here's an idea: A virtual Cap Beat coffee mug to anyone who posts a music video about education funding. Bonus points if you can find rhymes for "Claremont" and "donor towns."

- Meg Heckmam

The implosion of John Kerry

At 7 this morning, CBS, NBC, ABC, local Fox, FNC, MSNBC, CNN, C-SPAN and maybe even the Golf Channel were all over what John Kerry said or meant or said next or didn't say, etc. Anyone already online doesn't need help finding this story or the breathless criticisms and attempted defenses. But if you want to keep chewing this over all day long, The Corner is as good a place as any to start. A couple of highlights:

From Mario Loyola: "If Kerry remains true to form, he will have 70 crisis cell-phone conversations about this with advisers, Clinton aides, and family relations, until deciding — on November 5 or 6 — to deliver his apology, thereby putting the whole story back in the headlines at the precise moment that nobody cares anymore. Thank God for John Kerry, who may just have gifted the GOP two elections in a row — a great achievement for someone whose Yale GPA was lower than Dubya's."

From John Derbyshire: "John Kerry is awful, and anything we can do further to degrade his political prospects is worth doing. But really, I saw a clip of him making the much-deplored remark, and it was obvious that the dimwit in Iraq that he referred to was George W. Bush, not the American soldier. It was a dumb joke badly delivered, but his meaning was plain. My pleasure in watching JK squirm is just as great as any other conservative's, but something is owed to honesty. There's a lot of fake outrage going round here."


Poll shopping

Is Bass ahead? Is Hodes? National House watchers disagree about the status of New Hampshire's 2nd District race, leaving bloggers free to choose which survey or prediction they care to point to. Today Drew Cline links to CQ, which has the race in the "leans Republican" category. Yesterday Dante Scala linked to Majority Watch, which has Hodes ahead, 50-47. Last week he linked to the Evans-Novak political report, which had the race in the "leans Dem" column. (A new report should appear at that link tomorrow.) Over at's election scorecard, which last week listed both New Hampshire seats as safely Republican, the Bass seat has been recategorized as a toss-up. The change reflects the addition of the 50-47 spread Dante pointed to. The scorecard now averages six polls, only two of which are from October. I expect at least two new snapshots this week from inside the state: a UNH/WMUR poll and a Concord Monitor poll (done by Research 2000). Over at the NH-02 Progressive blog, there is already analysis of what the new poll results will mean (once they're known).

You want more? Okay, the Cook Political Report yesterday had the race "lean Republican to toss up." Real Clear Politics lists the race as "leans Republican." And over at Red State you can find the prediction "Bass wins again."

Reader beware: Not to spoil the fun, but my (ahem) hyper-linking has in effect created its own echo chamber. This race was not supposed to be on the hot list and has gotten heavier attention only recently. So there just isn't that much data to analyze. The folks I've pointed to above are mostly working on limited information, and their predictions should be treated accordingly.

Maine fights back

Craig Benson, New Hampshire's governor from 2003-05 and the cofounder of Cabletron, sent us this guest post on why New Hampshire has a strong interest in what happens on election day in Maine:

"Fifty years ago Maine and New Hampshire had similar tax postures and similar economic situations. Since then Maine's taxes have grown more rapidly than New Hampshire's. As a result New Hampshire's economy is more robust. Maine's unemployment rate is much higher, and wages in Maine are much lower.

"That difference matters a lot to businesses making decisions. When we moved Cabletron to Rochester, the choice to move to New Hampshire and not Maine was easy because of the significant tax differences. How your state contrasts with states thousands of miles away may not matter as much, but there is significant tax competition between neighboring states. It’s just as easy to be in Kittery as Portsmouth, in Rochester as Berwick.

"This year, Maine is poised to compete more seriously for jobs in northern New England. One election day, Maine voters will decide whether to support a taxpayers bill of rights (also known as TABOR): a proposal to force the state to live within its means by holding spending growth and tax growth to the change in population and the rate of inflation.

"Even in New Hampshire, spending has grown faster than people's ability to pay and creates pressure for higher taxes. Maine's adoption of TABOR has the potential to turn the tables on us by keeping tax growth rates below that of New Hampshire, creating an economic advantage for Maine that would grow over time. The danger is that Maine will begin to lure jobs that might otherwise go to New Hampshire.

"A spending and tax cap would give businesses the certainty they look for in tax policy, especially over the long term. Further, it would send the signal that taxes in Maine will not grow as fast as they do in other states in the region, making Maine more and more competitive each year.

"In the short term, we should continue to look for areas where we can improve our competitive edge. In the long term, we should consider our own fiscal discipline to ensure we don't spend faster than New Hampshire's paychecks grow. New Hampshire should adopt its own taxpayer bill of rights."

Duck soup with a side of taxes

What is a "Lazy Lynch Tax?" You'll have to watch to the end of this YouTube video to find out.

Re: Libertarians for Lynch?

Lord knows I like the Cato Institute, but there's a reason Washingtonians are all out of touch and I believe in devolution. If I'm just some schmoo in Washington reading press releases, all sounds great. But see my earlier post.

Putting money in a rainy day fund is a good idea, but Lynch and the Legislature suspended the rainy day fund law to keep the surplus from being deposited and then put $30 million less in than they were supposed to, and only after waiting to see that revenue was coming in ahead of expectations. That's only sort of like doing the right thing.

I am a big fan of eliminating the statewide property tax (all of it, even the part on businesses) and routinely praised the governor for that. His education funding plan would have done that, a huge step forward, and spent less money than anyone else's, also a good start. I hope it comes back with an amendment attached to it this time, as I suggested back then.

He should also be applauded for signing the insurance premium tax cut, a pro-growth tax cut we championed (who says he doesn't love me?), initially proposed by Governor Benson (shh, don't tell anyone). So, on balance some good stuff, some bad stuff. I'd have said C+, but after filtering through a Washington bureaucracy (albeit a libertarian one), that's not bad.

P.S. Whether Mr. Lynch or Mr. Coburn emerges victorious, I'll be happy to help either one improve the state's grade. I'm sure they can't wait!

Libertarians for Lynch?

I can't wait to hear what Charlie has to say about the Cato Institute after this, but this week that libertarian think tank gave John Lynch a B grade for his first term in office. He was tied with Phil Bredesen of Tennessee for the highest marks among Democrats. Only Matt Blunt of Missouri received an A.

Personally I have a hard time with these two sentences in Cato's report: "Lynch's strength has been his crusade to eliminate the statewide property tax that was imposed by the last Democratic governor, Jeanne Shaheen. He has been unsuccessful at this task, but he has been able to cut that tax a bit." The reason the rate of the statewide property tax has fallen is because property values have gone up. And even if it went away altogether, without other arrangements, we'd still pay the tax -- it would just go back to being part of the local property tax.

Elsewhere, the report says: "With the state racking up a budget surplus this year, the government clearly isn’t lacking money. Lynch has suggested the surplus should go to a rainy day fund and more government spending on heating assistance and a R&D tax credit. He really should be talking more about broad-based tax cuts instead. Still, Lynch’s first term has been mostly friendly to state taxpayers."

Betting the House

Poll junkies are already familiar with, where the presentation of information is getting better by the week. This interactive House map is pretty cool. On the down side, not all the surveys are ripe. In fact, each of the New Hampshire congressional races lists only one October poll (among three in the 1st District and five in the 2nd). For what it's worth, both seats are listed as safely Republican.

Lynch's truth deficit

For months, I have been infuriated by the constant claims of a fictitious $300 million deficit. In July, I published a column in the Union Leader dispelling this myth. (Last week, Steve Duprey took up the case in the Monitor.) The $300 million does come from a report by Doug Hall but one that was published six months before the 2004 election and that claimed the number would change. By the time Lynch was sworn in, the situation was vastly improved. My summary of the situation from the July article:

"Instead of producing a $71 million deficit, Craig Benson produced an $82 million surplus, a swing of $153 million that erased more than half the $300 million. Between significantly higher revenue projections based on the current economy and his $87 million tax increase, Lynch didn't face a deficit at all and was able to propose a modest spending increase. Without raising taxes, Governor Lynch would have had to cut state spending, but that's not nearly as interesting a story to tell. Its only advantage is that it's the truth."

Elections are a great time to play games with the truth, but you ought to be careful when the facts are easily checked."

UPDATE: Here's the link to Doug Hall's 2004 report.

Bipartisan bingo

How bipartisan is John Lynch? Let's just say that if you had the word "bipartisan" on your gubernatorial debate bingo card, you cleaned up tonight. Other useful squares included those marked with "working together" or "$300 million deficit" or the perennial New Hampshire applause line "veto a sales or income tax." But particularly in the first half of the debate, if the governor wasn't being "bipartisan," he was "putting aside partisanship" or (in a nice piece of synergy) relying on the "nonpartisan" New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies as the source of the "$300 million deficit" figure. By my count, Lynch described himself, his approach or his plans as bipartisan six times in his first 12 opportunities to speak. While I suspect his diligence will pay off in tomorrow's news coverage, I note that Norma Love's initial Associated Press report doesn't drop the B word until paragraph No. 8.

UPDATE: Paragraph No. 2 ... Paragraph No. 1 (not pre-arranged, I promise) ... but Landrigan has no bipartisan love for the gov.

Don't bet on my team

Corey Corbin, the Democrat challenging Jack Barnes for the District 17 state Senate seat, predicts there will be no upset in that race. He also predicts the Democrats will not take control of the Senate. Corbin says he's just calling it the way he sees it. Okay, but if punditry is his true calling, why bother running for office in the first place? (HT: John DiStaso)

2nd District Debate

Tonight it was Charlie Bass and Paul Hodes on stage, and I think it's possible each candidate helped himself a little, if in unexpected ways. Hodes proved that, contrary to his TV and mail ads, he can talk about issues without resorting to stale jokes delivered badly. He came across as calm and serious. He's counting on angry voters to support him, but I don't believe he ever appeared angry himself. Bass was his best toward the end of the debate, answering questions about Terri Schiavo and the role of religious faith in his life. Bass always sounds his worst when he riffs on appropriations and authorizations and committees and who co-sponsored what legislation. He's so much more likable, not to mention understandable, when he lets himself speak from the heart. I suppose it helps that I thought his statement regarding faith -- "I believe God should be an important part of any decision-making process, but I keep it to myself" -- was just right.

That said, most of this debate was an exercise in the recitation of talking points -- sometimes memorized, sometimes read off the lectern -- plus lots of don't-trust-my-opponent accusation or innuendo. I can't see how either candidate scored a decisive win. On the other hand, there's plenty to take issue with.

  • Let's be parochial and start with the New Hampshire Primary. Hodes thought a question about the DNC approving Nevada caucuses in front of us was a chance to say he's not afraid to disagree with the national party. Please, there's no courage in telling New Hampshire voters you're for the presidential primary. Bass was strong on this question, even magnanimously granting that no New Hampshire Democrat wants to lose the primary. The problem is the national party -- you know, Bass added, the people Hodes wants to march in lockstep with.
  • I know it's easy to pick on Bass's exact wording -- he gets tongue-tied very easily -- but he had one whopper. He was busy mocking Hodes for waffling on whether the tax cuts should be rolled back for the top 1 percent or 2 percent of income earners when he tried to evoke the 2004 presidential campaign. You can't roll back just the top 1 or 2 percent, he said. "John Kerry tried to do it, and he ended up raising taxes." (You mean it was all a dream?)
  • No surprise that Bass found a moment to say Hodes is stuck in a pre-9/11 mindset. But does Bass really get it either? Distinguishing what might have been appropriate in 1999 from what's appropriate now, Bass said: "We live in a time when terrorists represent a threat to the United States." Actually, they were already a threat in 1999. They were a threat in 1993. What changed on 9/11 was our response to that threat. As Rudy Giuliani said in his recent visit to Concord: We decided playing defense against the threat was no longer acceptable; we had to go on offense against it.
  • Twice Hodes referenced former Bass aide Tad Furtado, who resigned after getting caught posing as a Democrat unimpressed with Hodes on a couple of websites. A fair issue, I suppose, except that Bass handled it decisively and appropriately (the proof is how quickly it became a non-story) and Hodes lumped it in with Mark Foley. The Furtado story isn't remotely connected to the Foley story, let alone Hodes's overblown charge that if we can't trust the Republicans with our kids' safety, of course we can't trust them with our national security.
  • And, since Drew Cline was kind enough to laugh at my joke yesterday, let me quote these two related lines from tonight. Bass: "You're for big government." Hodes: "I'm a small government guy." I don't know which one of these guys is going to win, but I think we all know neither one of them is exactly Patrick Henry.

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