Hassan Waiting Too Long?

Aug. 31, 2015 — New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) continues to remain non-committal about whether she will seek re-election or challenge Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R), and her ambivalence could be hurting her. Long saying she would decide when the state budget situation was resolved (she signed the budget bill on July 9), Hassan has yet to give any indication of what she might do. Refusing to wait any longer, others are stepping up.

Earlier this week, state Rep. Frank Edelblut (R) announced his gubernatorial candidacy regardless of what Hassan decides. Previously, US Rep. Annie Kuster (D-NH-2), long thought of as a challenger to Sen. Ayotte should Hassan stay put, announced that she will seek re-election next year irrespective of what statewide position may or may not be open.

Now a new Public Policy Polling survey (Aug. 21-24; 841 registered New Hampshire voters) that skews decidedly to the Democratic side finds Hassan making no gains against Sen. Ayotte, still trailing her by just one point, 44-43 percent. Normally, this would be considered good news for a potential challenger but, in this case, the opposite might well be true.

The rest of the poll tells us that Ayotte’s one point ballot test margin is likely understated. The clue comes from the various individual approval ratings.

Seventeen state and federal office holders or candidates were tested (12 Republicans; 5 Democrats) and the favorability skew is abnormally negative toward the GOP politicians. Among the dozen Republicans, 10 tested disapprovingly, and six in highly negative fashion (by spreads of 20 points or more).

The two Republicans landing in positive territory were Ohio Gov. John Kasich (36:30 percent positive to negative) and presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson (36:33 percent). The worst finding went to Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), whose 22:60 percent ratio put him down by a factor of almost 4:1. The others posting negative factors of greater than 25 points were Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ), and ex-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

The Democratic side also points to a major liberal skew. The most positive candidate tested (+10 points) was Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the self-described socialist. In absorbing further bad news about her campaign, this decidedly left of center sample dissed Hillary Clinton. The former Secretary of State’s favorability ratio registered 35:56 percent, a 21-point downward swing.

All of this suggests that Ayotte, whose own job approval ratio was 38:46 percent, is in stronger political position than this poll indicates. The fact that she has a lead at all over an incumbent Democratic governor before such a sampling universe is highly significant. The senator’s position is even better if executive councilor Chris Pappas (D) were to challenge her. In that hypothetical pairing, the incumbent would lead Pappas, 45-31 percent.

This is another 2016 Senate situation where Democrats must make a major effort in order to regain the Senate majority. Gov. Hassan waiting so long to decide upon a race, particularly if she passes on a run for Senate, could leave the party in a weakened position. With developments breaking against the Democrats in Pennsylvania and Nevada being a tough hold, opportunities such as those found in places like New Hampshire must be converted if the party hopes to dethrone the Republican majority.

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