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A quick Lamontagne campaign post-mortem

November 06. 2012 10:43PM

Here is my quick take on Ovide Lamontagne's loss in his second and final race for governor.

UPDATE: In the original post, I used the word "professional" in the first paragraph below. That was absolutely the wrong word. Ovide Lamontagne had a professional campaign. My beef was not with the professionalism of his staff and advisers, who were and are real pros. I regret giving the impression that they were less than that. The better word would have been "modern," and I should have made clear that I was referring to the message, not the campaign operation itself. I did not mean to say that the people in Lamontagne's pay were anything less than professional, but regretfully I gave that impression.

Ovide is a wonderful man who has given generously to his community, his city and his state. He would make a very good governor. He gets that the governor of New Hampshire is in many ways like a small city mayor (he says small town mayor, but it's more like a city mayor). But here's what he did not ever seem to understand, according to many Republican Party sources: The job might be similar to that of a small-town mayor, but the campaign for the job is not. If you fail to run a big-time, professional (modern) political campaign, complete with a polished, targeted message and quality negative hits on your opponent, you are going to lose. Ovide did not have that, and he lost.

Ovide tried to define himself with a soft-light TV ad in which he cheerfully told viewers, "I am New Hampshire." He talked a lot about growing up in New Hampshire and staying true to the state. Unfortunately for him, that message is completely meaningless in a state where more than half of residents are non-natives.

He concentrated so much on likability and warmth, which are important, that he neglected to articulate a compelling message. Maggie Hassan had a message. She was running to reverse the "extreme" Tea Party advance in the state, restore funding to important priorities such as the university system, protect abortion, and extend John Lynch's tenure in spirit if not in fact. Ovide never consistently articulated an alternative vision.

Ovide sent mixed signals about what kind of administration would follow Lynch's if he got elected. He said he would be "Scott Walker on steroids" and be radically different from John Lynch and also that he would govern very much like John Lynch. He meant that he would maintain Lynch's kindly demeanor when dealing with others, but he would nonetheless lead with vision and bold action, which Lynch did not. But that message was unclear and confusing.

Ovide laid out some good bullet-pointed plans, especially on job-creation, but he failed to go beyond the bullet points and show voters how he would directly improve their lives. He made the mistake that so many New Hampshire Republicans make, which is to focus on taxes, particularly the income tax, while neglecting other issues, as though New Hampshire voters are one-issue voters and that issue is an income tax.

What about the negative attacks? Yes, Hassan and her allies pounded mercilessly on Ovide, and to great effect. They defined him as an extremist who was out of touch with New Hampshire. Imagine, Hassan, a doctrinaire liberal who was publicly open to an income tax and who pushed a seat belt mandate only a few years ago, claimed Ovide was the one out of touch with New Hampshire. And it worked, in large part because Ovide failed to define himself.

Right-to-work also played a big role. As Fergus Cullen has pointed out, labor unions spent millions in New Hampshire attacking Ovide. They were motivated by his support for a right-to-work law and that law's near passage in the last legislative session. If the Republicans kept the Legislature, which was likely, Hassan was their best shot at blocking that law.

The Democrats effectively used Bill O'Brien as a foil. The House Speaker motivated Democrats in a way that no other Republican did. He also turned off some moderate Republicans, and Ovide needed those moderate Republicans to win. Democrats used not just O'Brien personally but the Republican House in general, which they had some success in defining as "extreme," to turn out their own vote and lure independents. And they tied Ovide to O'Brien every chance they could get.

And finally, there was the Dem turnout. At this point it appears that Democrats did an excellent job identifying young and new voters and getting them out, helping them win towns they were expected to lose (Epping) and narrow the margin in towns they lost.

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