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Survey points to rough going for N.H. Democrats

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A number of factors point to rough going for incumbent Democrats in the 2014 mid-term election, according to Andrew Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center.

The factors include President Barack Obama’s growing unpopularity among New Hampshire voters and their consistent and continued dislike for the Affordable Care Act. Plus the fact, said Smith, that Republicans are especially motivated to get out the vote to keep their majority in the U.S. House and to win a majority in the U.S. Senate.

“Obama being unpopular is a reflection that the Democrats are unpopular,” said Smith.

An April 14 WMUR Granite State Poll by the survey center shows the president’s approval ratings continue to fall and his disapproval ratings continue to rise. His current standing shows 53 percent disapproval and 39 percent approval among New Hampshire voters.

Those are worse numbers than a January poll (51 percent disapproval, 42 percent approval) and worse still from an October poll (49 percent disapproval, 44 percent approval).This is a mid-term election, but Obama’s coattails are still in evidence as Republicans seek to pin a sluggish economy and Obamacare (despite millions of Americans who have signed up) on incumbent Democrats by way of the administration.

“The Obama thing is hurting Democrats; It will hurt them nationwide and it will hurt them in New Hampshire,” said Smith.

Smith predicts a loss of as many 20 Democratic seats in the U.S. House in 2014, two of whom could be New Hampshire’s incumbent Democratic congresswomen, Carol Shea-Porter in the 1st Congressional District and Anne Kuster in the 2nd Congressional District.

The marquis race in a mid-term year, according to Smith, would normally be the governor’s race. But Smith doesn’t predict much of a contest against incumbent Gov. Maggie Hassan.

An April 16 WMUR Granite State Poll on the governor’s race shows Democrat Hassan with double-digit advantages over her Republican challengers, whom the survey shows lack wide recognition.

Smith said this year’s marquis race belongs to Democrat Jeanne Shaheen as she campaigns to keep her U.S. Senate seat from former the former Republican U.S. senator from Massachusetts, Scott Brown. Smith assumes Brown will easily overcome his three opponents in the GOP primary: former state Sen. Jim Rubens, former U.S. Sen. Bob Smith, and conservative activist Karen Testerman.

That race should serve to do two things, said Smith: “The Brown race will do something to motivate the Republicans, but will do more to motivate the Democrats to get out and vote.”

If the Democrat incumbents hope to maintain their seats, according to Brown, they need a big turnout of the Democratic base but also the independents who lean toward Democrats.

The turnout will be important, said Smith, because “Republican voters are really angry and motivated to vote.”

They are driven by a dislike of the Affordable Care Act, which, according to the April 14 UNH poll, is highly unpopular among N.H. voters. The survey said 51 percent of voters oppose Obamacare while 37 percent approve of it.

Since polling on the issue began in February 2010 it has never had more people favor it than disfavor it.

It is, what Smith calls “the most significant weakness among Democrats.”

“Republicans are going to beat that horse until it's absolutely dead,” said Smith, “and they would be silly not to.”

But Smith cautions in all this that it's still early. "Voters aren't paying attention right now," he said.

Paul Briand is an editor for 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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