A close loss in 2000.

Photographer: C.J. Gunther/AFP/Getty Images

New Hampshire Carries Outsize Stakes for the 2016 Elections

Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was the executive editor of Bloomberg News, before which he was a reporter, bureau chief and executive Washington editor at the Wall Street Journal.
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New Hampshire is in the bottom quarter of states in terms of its electoral and popular votes in the U.S. presidential contest. But no other place has more competitive races with national implications.

The presidential contest, a Senate race, both House seats and the gubernatorial election all are up for grabs. The outcomes could shape the 2017 political map.

It's worth remembering the state's crucial role in 2000. Despite all the attention to Florida, If Vice-President Al Gore had taken New Hampshire -- he lost by 7,000 votes -- he would have won the electoral as well as the popular vote.

This year, the Republican nominee, Donald Trump, has advantages in the state. He won a huge victory in the February primary, while on the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton was clobbered by Bernie Sanders. Only 4 percent of the state's voters are minorities, a Democratic base, and almost 57 percent of the likely electorate is made up of noncollege educated whites, the seventh-highest rate in the country for a group that trends Trump.

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Yet in the last six presidential races, the once reliably Republican state has voted Democratic five times; Barack Obama twice won decisively. The Democratic campaign in the state is much better organized.

As in most of America, the focus is on the evils of the other candidate. Late last week, Clinton's running mate, Senator Tim Kaine, got a boisterous cheer from a crowd in Exeter when he referred to Trump's infatuation with Vladimir Putin: "If you can't tell the difference between leadership and dictatorship you have no business being president," he said. 

Five hours later, enthusiastic supporters packed a Laconia gymnasium to hear Trump. In his fourth visit to the state since May, he accused Clinton of corruption and blamed her for every major failure in the Middle East, including a "central role in unleashing ISIS." Along with forcing Mexico to pay for a border wall, he vowed to make the Mideast Gulf states pay for a refugee haven, claiming these states wouldn't exist "for very long"  without U.S. support. For good measure, he asserted that New Hampshire lost one in three manufacturing jobs in Obama's economy. (The state's unemployment rate is 2.9 percent, the second lowest in the country.)

The state's largest newspaper, the New Hampshire Union Leader, last week endorsed the Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson. The outcome may hinge on how much independents -- who account for 40 percent of the state's electorate -- support Trump, Clinton or a third-party candidate. The election expert Nate Silver still rates Clinton's chance of winning at 62 percent.

New Hampshire also features this cycle's most heavyweight Senate race: the Republican incumbent Kelly Ayotte against Governor Maggie Hassan. They are both smart, popular and well known -- to voters, they're just Kelly and Maggie. Both national parties think they'll win the seat, and outside groups are pouring in millions of dollars, making WMUR, the Manchester TV station, the only sure winner.

The Republican ticket causes Ayotte some discomfort. She says she supports Trump, though she won't endorse him. Earlier, she called on Republican Congressman Frank Guinta to resign after he was sanctioned for campaign-finance violations; he won his primary last week.

Hassan ties Ayotte to Trump at every opportunity. In a brief interview, she said the incumbent "stands with Donald Trump, even though prominent members of her own party say he presents a clear and present danger to the country."

Republicans say her willingness to criticize both the Republican presidential nominee and the congressman appeals to independent voters.

Naturally, much of the national focus is on big battlegrounds such as Florida and Ohio. But the Granite State may provide important indicators early on election night. If Trump loses the state, any path to victory will be elusive. Likewise, Democratic hopes of taking control of the Senate may be dashed if Hassan loses.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Albert R. Hunt at ahunt1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net