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Polls show strength of incumbency, but N.H. Democrats beware

The series of WMUR Granite State Polls released by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center during the previous week show the power of incumbency.

And it just so happens the incumbents who enjoy that power for the upcoming 2014 mid-term election are Democrats.

But incumbency, while it has its advantages, is no guarantee. And the WMUR Granite State Polls show there are some vulnerabilities among the incumbents, particularly in the U.S. Senate race where incumbent Jeanne Shaheen has a 0 favorability rating among Independents and in the 1st Congressional District where Democrat Carol Shea-Porter is least secure in holding onto her seat.

These polls -- for that matter, all polls -- are simply snapshots, moments in time that can change as rapidly as the weather at the top of Mount Washington. And these polls don’t represent true head-to-head/Republican-to-Democrat match-ups because the GOP primaries won’t be decided until September.

The polls at issue had to do with governor, U.S. Senate, and the two U.S. House races in the 1st CD and 2nd CD.

The governor’s race poll was released July 7 with the headline “Hassan Stays Popular; Leads GOP Challengers in Re-Election Bid”.

Incumbent Democrat Maggie Hassan, according to the poll, has the approval of 60 percent of New Hampshire residents vs. a disapproval rating of 22 percent.The core of her approval comes from Democrats, while the core of her disapproval comes from Republicans. No surprise there. But in New Hampshire the tipping point between approval and disapproval/re-election or rejection lies with Independents. In this poll, 54 percent of Independents approve of what Hassan is doing as governor.

Her two Republican opponents - political activist Andrew Hemingway of Bristol) and businessman Walt Havenstein of Alton - are unknowns, according to the poll. Whoever emerges from the GOP primary, will have to work very hard to introduce themselves and their agenda to the vast majority of residents who say they don’t know enough about either candidate to rate them as favorable or unfavorable.

The survey center summed up the July 8 polling of the 1st and 2nd CD with the comment that “Carol-Shea Porter and former Congressman Frank Guinta remain locked in a tight contest while Republican Dan Innis is gaining strength. In District 2, Congresswoman Ann Kuster’s favorability ratings have improved and she leads three largely unknown GOP opponents.”

Shea-Porter’s favorability ticked downward 2 points from April while Democrat Kuster’s shot up 7 points.Shea-Porter’s big electoral hurdle: she is more unfavorable among Independents than she is favorable. Contrast that with Kuster whose slightly more favorable than unfavorable among the undeclared voters.

At the top of the 1st CD political to-do list is sorting out who the Republican challenger will be between former Congressman Frank Guinta of Manchester, who was defeated by Shea-Porter in 2012, and former UNH business college dean Dan Innis of Portsmouth.

Guinta is sitting at 32 percent favorability and Innis is at 11 percent.

The GOP primary in the 2nd CD is a little more crowded among former state Sen. Gary Lambert of Nashua, state Rep. Marilinda Garcia of Salem, and former state Rep. Jim Lawrence of Hudson. Each has favorability ratings under 10 percent, primarily because New Hampshire voters say they don’t know enough about the candidates to rate them positively or negatively.

In the race for the U.S. Senate, Democrat Jeanne Shaheen is campaigning for re-election to a second six-year term.

According to the poll released July 9: “With four months to go before the 2014 election, Senator Jeanne Shaheen leads her potential Republican challengers by double digits. Former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown is the strongest challenger, but he is still viewed unfavorably by Granite Staters.”

Shaheen has a favorability rating of 57 percent. Among the Republicans, former Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Scott Brown has a favorability rating of 40 percent, former U.S. Sen. Bob Smith is at 18 percent, and former state Sen. Jim Rubens is at 10 percent.

It’s interesting that the poll showed projected head to head matchups of each Republican against Shaheen, but didn’t show how well they stacked up against each other in a primary run-off.

One important note in this race is the net favorability rating for Shaheen among Independents in 0. The net favorability rating is the percentage of voters who have a favorable opinion of her minus the percentage who have an unfavorable opinion. Among undeclared voters, the 0 percent favorability index means as many Independents have a favorable view of her as have an unfavorable view.

There are Independents who lean to the left and there are Independents who lean right. It’s a tough crowd to please in New Hampshire, but it’s the crowd that decides winning or losing.

Paul Briand is an editor with the Live Free or Die Alliance, a non-profit, non-partisan organization that encourages the discussion and analysis of New Hampshire politics and policies.

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