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Democrats hope to 'flip' state Senate; surging GOP says it's wishful thinking

New Hampshire Union Leader

July 01. 2014 8:06PM

The New Hampshire Senate is one of six legislative chambers across the country where Democrats have the best chance of cutting into Republican majorities or potentially flipping the chamber to Democratic control, according to the national Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, which hosted a teleconference on Tuesday with outgoing state Sen. Sylvia Larsen, D-Concord, among the speakers.

In addition to New Hampshire, Democrats are targeting state legislatures in Iowa, Michigan, Montana, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Republicans say this is all wishful thinking in an election season that could produce a GOP wave like that of 2010.

On paper, the New Hampshire Senate, with a 13-11 GOP majority, looks to be a toss-up.

“New Hampshire Senate Democrats are poised to take the majority in 2014,” Larsen said, pointing out that in 2012, Democrats fell short by less than 600 votes across two districts. Democrat Kathleen Kelley lost her race to Dave Boutin in the Hooksett area by 396 votes out of nearly 14,000 cast. In the Bedford area, Democrat Lee Nyquist lost to Andy Sanborn by 213 votes out of more than 15,000 cast.

A big problem for Democrats is the fact that Kelley is not running this year and the party has no candidate on the ballot in the Hooksett area District 16, which includes three Manchester wards.

“There will be a very strong District 16 candidate who is going to wage a write-in campaign,” Larsen said. “I’m not at liberty to talk further on that at this time, but you will see some energy coming out of that race in the form of a write-in campaign.”

Larsen said Democrats see “several paths to victory on a Senate map,” despite the gap in District 16.

“The Odell seat is a Democratic seat, and we believe we will win there,” she said, referring to retiring Republican Sen. Bob Odell, who has represented a cluster of 14 towns from Grantham to Francestown.

Larsen also predicted victory in the Bedford area district that extends west to Fitzwilliam. Voters there will be treated to a Sanborn-Nyquist rematch, which could be key to the final makeup of the Senate.

“Our 11 incumbents are in a strong place for re-election, with many having raised more money than ever before,” she said. “We are also proud of our top-tier challengers, several of whom came close to victory in 2012.”

Primary battles

With only one primary on the Democratic side (for Larsen’s Concord-area district), and 11 for the Republicans, Larsen sees a definite advantage. “New Hampshire Senate Republicans have several Tea Party battles,” she said. “Those will require candidates and the GOP caucus to spend resources they won’t have against Democratic candidates.”

The retiring “dean of the New Hampshire Senate” also pointed to the fund-raising totals for the Democratic State Senate Caucus, which are at historic levels. According to June 18 reports filed with the Secretary of State, the Senate Democratic Caucus had raised $269,978, and had $149,629 on hand.

Rich Killion, a consultant with the Senate Republican Majority PAC, said the fund-raising totals only tell half the story.

“Even though the Democratic Caucus PAC out-raised the Republican PAC (as they always have through history), the burn rate between the two PACs is significantly different,” he wrote in an email.

Senate Republicans raised $185,271, according to the June 18 report, but as of that date had spent only $28,544, leaving the GOP with $156,727 cash on hand.

“Both parties will obviously continue to raise money,” wrote Killion. “But the GOP PAC will have a considerably lower burn rate with more resources to spend on contacting voters when it matters most. Advantage in cash on hand and cash discipline to the Republicans.”

Larsen sees the top of the ticket as benefiting Democrats, with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Gov. Maggie Hassan both polling well against potential GOP opponents. But Republicans argue that President Obama and his policies will boost their cause, even though the President is not on the ballot.

Chamber of ‘wild swings’

Killion points out that Democratic candidates in New Hampshire and across the country benefited from the Obama campaign’s impressive get-out-the-vote effort in 2012.

“The entire Democrat ballot was aided by the Obama campaign’s historic get-out-the vote and voter identification infrastructure,” he wrote. “It swung nine of nine swing states and swung the election to Obama. It was very impressive and very wide-sweeping. In the special elections since, there has been zero implications for its existence here in New Hampshire.”

State Rep. Mary Heath, a well-respected Manchester Democrat, won her House special election by only 47 votes in 2013 in an overwhelmingly Democratic district.

Republican Joe Kenney won the North Country Executive Council seat, even though he was significantly outspent by his Democratic opponent, Mike Cryans, who was endorsed by the family of longtime councilor Ray Burton.

The politically neutral magazine, “Governing,” conducted its own survey of state Legislatures across the country, and concluded that Republicans will hold their majority in the New Hampshire Senate, and flip the New Hampshire House.

“Of the 11 chambers at risk for the Democrats, six are rated either a toss-up or lean Republican,” the magazine editors wrote in a June 23 report. “One Democratic-held chamber already leans Republican: the New Hampshire House, thanks to a GOP-friendly redistricting map.”

“In a mid-term election cycle that’s more favorable to the GOP, it’s entirely plausible for Republicans to net the 20 seats needed to flip the majority,” according to “Governing.” “After all, the chamber is known for experiencing wild swings. The much smaller state Senate is currently held by the Republicans, and the GOP has an ever-so-slight edge in keeping control.”

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