Granite Staters to finally decide close races for President, governor, Congress
MANCHESTER -- The long, grueling campaign of 2012, dominated by taxes, jobs, the economy, the role of government and an avalanche of nasty television ads, finally comes to a close Tuesday as New Hampshire joins the nation in going to the polls.
Granite Staters will have full ballots before them as they make choices in close battles for President, governor and two U.S. House races. They will also elect five executive councilors, 424 state legislators and a host of county officials.
Three questions are on the ballot, including whether to place a ban on an income tax in the state constitution.
In Manchester, voters will chose from among 62 candidates for nine seats on the local charter commission.
Secretary of State Bill Gardner expects about 722,000 Granite Staters, or an estimated 70 percent of the state's voting age population, to vote Tuesday whether to keep Democratic incumbent Barack Obama in the White House or replace him with former Republican Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
There is also an open governor's seat to be decided as Republican attorney Ovide Lamontagne of Manchester and Democratic former state Sen. Maggie Hassan end their eight-week battle to succeed the retiring four-term Gov. John Lynch. Also on the ballot is Libertarian John Babiarz of Grafton, who is making his fourth run for governor.
The state's two U.S. House seats are up for grabs with rematches of the 2010 races, won by Republicans, in each district.
Long lines are expected at polling places.
"It's a challenging process because of the nature of this election," said Gardner. "We have a presidential election, which traditionally brings out more voters. We'll have questions about the new voter ID law and we have three constitutional amendment questions for people to answer."
The New Hampshire vote for President could sway the national outcome.
Despite having only four electoral votes, New Hampshire has been one of 11 closely contested "battleground" states throughout the general election campaign.
It has been bombarded with television and radio ads from the candidates and outside interest groups. Obama has campaigned in the state seven times this year, while Romney has been here 10 times since winning the first-in-the-nation presidential primary on Jan. 10, including his scheduled rally at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester late Monday.
The presidential campaign actually began in 2009, just a few months after Obama was inaugurated, when Republicans Haley Barbour, Tim Pawlenty and Rick Santorum began testing the proverbial first-in-the-nation waters.
Romney easily won the leadoff contest over Ron Paul, Jon Huntsman, Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain, while Obama faced only token opposition in the primary and for the Democratic nomination.
The Obama campaign began setting up a grassroots organization in the spring of 2011. It grew to more than 30 offices and scores of staffers. Soon after the primary, the Romney campaign and Republican National Committee quickly organized their own formidable statewide organization.
Both campaigns now boast having massive get-out-the-vote operations that will tested be Tuesday as the nation again watches how New Hampshire votes.
The state race between Obama and Romney remains razor close. Polls released on Monday by the University of New Hampshire and New England College had Obama with small leads but Romney either within, or nearly within, the polls' margins of error.
Also running for President are Libertarian and former Republican New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson and former U.S. Rep. Virgil Goode of Virginia for the Constitution Party.
Lamontagne and Hassan locked in a classic battle that saw each candidate portray the other as ideologically extreme while trying to rally their bases and attract the all-important independent voters, who make up about 39 percent of the electorate.
Both candidates pledged to veto a broad-based income or sales tax, but Lamontagne questioned the sincerity of Hassan's pledge because she supported an income tax a decade ago running for the state Senate while renouncing it in later campaigns.
Hassan portrayed Lamontagne as a Tea Party extremist who would support restrictions on abortion and have government usurp other "women's health" decisions.
The governor's seat is open for the first time since 2002, when Jeanne Shaheen stepped aside to run for the U.S. Senate.
The highly popular Lynch, who beat Shaheen successor Craig Benson in 2004, decided early in the year not to seek a fifth term and endorsed fellow Democrat Hassan, who served three terms in the Senate before losing in 2010.
Lamontagne is making his second run for governor and has also run for the U.S. Senate and U.S. House.
This race was also a toss-up going into Election Day, although a UNH poll yesterday showed Hassan opening up a 9 percentage point lead.
U.S. House rematches
Both U.S. House races are rematches of 2010, when Republicans in New Hampshire and nationally dominated the mid-term election. Both are too close to call.
In the 1st District, Democratic former U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter is hoping to regain the seat she lost two years ago by a 54 to 42 percent margin to Republican former Manchester mayor and Rep. Frank Guinta. In the 2nd, Republican Rep. Charlie Bass is battling for an eighth term against Democrat Ann McLane Kuster.
Bass edged Kuster by 3,550 votes out of 224,663 cast two years ago.
Also on the ballot are Libertarian congressional candidates Brendan Kelly, a Seabrook selectman, in the 1st District and businessman Harcy Macia of Canterbury in the 2nd District.
Executive Council, Legislature
Republican Raymond Burton of Bath is seeking an unprecedented 18th term representing Executive Council District 1, opposed by Democrat Beth Funicella of Jackson and Libertarian Howard Wilson of Andover.
There are two open seats on the five-member council. In District 4, Republican Hillsborough County Treasurer Robert Burns of Bedford faces Democratic former Hillsborough County Treasurer Chris Pappas of Manchester to succeed the retiring Raymond Wieczorek. Also on the ballot is Libertarian Ken Blevens of Bow.
In District 2, Democratic consultant Colin Van Ostern of Concord faces attorney Michael Tierney of Hopkinton to succeed the outgoing Dan St. Hiliaire.
District 3 Republican incumbent Chris Sununu of Newfields is vying for a second term, facing Democrat Bill Duncan of New Castle and Libertarian Michael Baldassarre of Hampton. In District 5, Republican incumbent David Wheeler of Milford, seeking a fourth term, is challenged by Democrat Debora Pignatelli of Nashua, a former three-term councilor who lost to Wheeler in 2010.
There are 10 open seats in the 24-member state Senate, which is currently dominated 19-5 by Republicans. Eight of the open seats are currently held by Republicans and two are held by Democrats.
There are 125 open seats in the 400-member House, in which Republicans hold a 285 to 102 majority over Democrats, with two independents.
Party spokesmen said 213 Republican and 79 Democratic incumbents are running for reelection.
Watching the polls
Both parties have teams of attorneys who will fan out to polling places across the state to try to ensure misinterpretations of the state's new voter ID law does not block qualified voters.
Under the law, all voters will be asked to show a driver's license issued by any state, even if expired, or one of several other means of identification.
Those without ID will be asked to sign a "challenged voter affidavit" in which they swear they are "the identical person whom I represent myself to be" and have a domicile in the town they are voting in.
They will then be allowed to vote.
"We want to be sure the new law doesn't keep anyone from voting," said Democratic National Committeewoman Kathy Sullivan, an attorneys involved in the process.
Another Democratic attorney, George Bruno, said 400 lawyers comprise the Democratic legal team in the state.
The Obama campaign would not confirm that number and Republicans refused to say how many of their lawyers stand ready.
Manchester attorney Brian Castro heads the state Obama legal team, while Chris Reid, a former assistant attorney general and Benson legal counsel who also worked for the U.S. Justice Department in Iraq, heads the New Hampshire GOP legal team.
Romney spokesman Ryan Williams said, "Our goal in New Hampshire and across the country is to have an open and fair elections. We want to make sure that every legal vote counts."
Gardner said he met with two foreign officials from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe two weeks ago to talk about their request to observe the election process. He said he referred them to local officials but said that if they enter a polling place they cannot go past "the rail" that separates the ballot boxes from the rest of the polling place.
There are reportedly 44 observers being disbursed nationwide by the OSCE, at the invitation of the U.S. State Department.
The OSCE was described by the Washington-based TheHill.com web site last month as "a United Nations partner on democratization and human rights projects."