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November 13. 2012 8:18PM

Panel shares opinions on how election played out

HENNIKER - At New England College on Tuesday, a panel of election experts shared some insight into why voters voted the way they did last week and what that means for politics going forward.

The post-election wrap-up, hosted by Scott Spradling, formerly of WMUR, featured Drew Cline, editorial page editor for the New Hampshire Union Leader, Josh Rogers, political reporter for New Hampshire Public Radio, James Pindell, political director for WMUR.com, Rich Killion, former Mitt Romney-New Hampshire campaign adviser, Kathy Sullivan, former state Democratic Party chairman and a member of the Democratic National Committee, Pam Walsh, former chief of staff for Gov. John Lynch and Maggie Hassan campaign adviser, and Sarah Crawford Stewart, former New Hampshire campaign director for Jon Huntsman's presidential campaign.

The first question Spradling posed to the panel is one media outlets and pundits, and politicians across the country are all struggling with: why did a race for President, which seemed so close going into the election, fall so quickly and easily to Obama on election night?

While everyone had expected struggles in the swing states over a narrow margin, those struggles never materialized as both the popular vote and the Electoral College were handed to Obama by voters, Spradling said.

Rogers said Obama's campaign on the ground in those swing states was partly responsible, but it was a disconnect between the Republican Party and the voters that made the difference.

"The Democrats are more representative of the mainstream," said Rogers.

Issues raised by the GOP both nationally and on the state level, including access to contraception and abortion, created a gender gap the Republicans couldn't close in time for the election.

Pindell said Democrats had strong get-out-the-vote effort that aided their victories, but said they also might have just gotten lucky. Though demographics played into the election, especially the growing Hispanic population, Cline saw Romney's defeat, and the losses suffered by the Republicans, as a problem of empathy.

A poll conducted by the Spanish-language channel Univision found that 63 percent of Hispanics felt that the Republican Party didn't care about them, Cline said.

The message Obama sent was "we will take care of you," while the message the Democrats tacked to Romney was "you're on your own," Cline said.

But Sullivan disagreed with that characterization of the Democrats.

"The message was not 'We are going to take care of you,'" she said. "The message was 'We are a community.'"

The problem the Republicans had, said Sullivan, was that they promoted the idea of freedom and liberty, "but not for everybody." And that especially hurt the party with women who found themselves the target of condescension.

Killion said Romney had an uphill battle coming into the race with an unfavorable approval rating hanging over his head, and as the election drew closer, the Democrats' negative ad blitz in the swing states cemented the notion that Romney was not a good alternative to Obama.

Immigration also hurt Republicans, Killion said, and he said it's a problem that needs to be solved. Republicans also need to reclaim their message, which spun out of control in the hands of people like Donald Trump and Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.), said Stewart.

And both parties are going to have to come to the table to get things accomplished to keep the faith of the voters.

On the state level, Sullivan blamed Speaker of the House William O'Brien with the demise of the Republican majority in the House, saying that the speaker forced the traditionally reticent legislature into the spotlight.

"It wasn't pretty," Sullivan said. "People were laughing at them across the country."

But Killion said the statewide elections had more to do with the names at the top of the ticket than the speaker, and if they want to take back the House heading into the 2014 gubernatorial race, "Republicans better make sure they have a quality person running."

Cline said the mistake O'Brien made, and Obama made as well when he was elected, was saying, "I win" and aggressively going after their agendas without building bipartisan consensus.

O'Brien was especially aggressive, Cline said, because he knew he was going to be in charge of redistricting and couldn't lose the next election.

But though the theory worked in theory, it failed at the polls. Redistricting also wreaked havoc on the Executive Council races, said Sullivan, causing Republicans to lose seats there as well.

Going forward, Cline said Republicans in New Hampshire need to start paying attention to the changes that the Granite State has undergone in the last few decades, and realize it's not the same place they grew up in.

"They have totally lost sight of how the electorate has changed in New Hampshire," he said.

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Nancy Bean Foster may be reached at nfoster@newstote.com.


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