NHGOP fails to hold on to House seat in special election

Democrat Jennifer Daler beat Republican Peter Kucmas yesterday in a special election to fill the NH House seat left vacant when Republican Robert Mead left to serve as House Speaker Bill O’Brien’s chief of staff. Daler, a former state rep, won by a considerable margin of 58 percent to 42 percent, and carried each of the five towns in the district.

While pundits and analysts will surely frame this story in sensational terms like “referendum” and “mandate,” sources close to the race told NH Journal that the real reason for the Republican loss could be summed up in a less exciting word – organization.

Special elections, particularly for a House seat, are generally low-turnout affairs where only the party faithful makes it to the polls; so viewing them as bellwethers of public opinion is flawed thinking. In this race, Daler had several advantages going in. First, she had represented the district before being ousted in 2008, so she had name ID and voter familiarity on her side. Secondly, with Republicans holding veto-proof majorities in both the House and Senate regardless of the outcome of the race, GOP voters may have felt they could afford to be complacent while Democrats are desperate to regain power, one seat at a time.

However, elections of this kind often come down to who has the better organization and can get their voters to the polls. Candidates for a virtually unpaid citizen legislature rely on the state party’s assistance with campaign strategy, paid campaign materials, and volunteer recruitment and deployment. According to reports, the Republican turnout effort was disjointed and flawed from the beginning, endemic of a party that has often seemed to lack direction and focus in recent months. A source within the party told NH Journal that the Kucmas campaign, in conjunction with the NHGOP, was a poorly managed mess from the start. Scant mailings were sent out to voters, phone banks were badly publicized and sparsely attended, calls were not properly targeted to likely Republican voters, and door-to-door campaigning was not utilized effectively. The limited volunteer effort generally had to be organized by local GOP committees or other conservative groups, rather than a centralized program run by the state party.

In typical fashion, as soon as the just shy of 2,500 votes were counted, both sides switched on their spin machines. NHDP Chair Ray Buckley was quick to claim a “massive victory” with “historic numbers” of voters braving bad weather to stand against the Republican agenda. While he can’t be blamed for doing a victory lap, it behooves observers to remember that what seems like a trouncing based on the percentages comes down to just under 400 votes.

NHGOP Chair Jack Kimball attempted to excuse the party’s poor performance, stating, “Unfortunately special elections have a lower voter turnout and I am disappointed with the outcome.” The trouble with that statement is that although the turnout was low compared to a general election, it was higher than is typical for an election of this type, with almost 20% of voters making it to the polls in the rain. So someone was clearly turning out voters; it just wasn’t the GOP. Additionally, its not new information that special elections have traditionally low turnouts, so the Party should have been aware of and planned for that contingency.

The good news for the NHGOP is they have three more chances to get it right, with special elections coming up in Hillsborough Dist. 3, Rockingham Dist. 14, and Strafford Dist. 3 over the next few months. It remains to be seen whether this upset will light a fire under a struggling state party, or become yet another example of this NHGOP’s ineffectiveness.

Author: Shawn Millerick

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  • Tiiussir

     The inside scoop I hear is
    that Chairman Kimball told the Executive Committee he was going to
    “engage” BJ Perry (the GOP wiz of special elections under Gov Sununu
    - they won them all) and I have heard BJ never got as much as a telephone call. 

     

    I’m sure Will is working his butt off, but couldn’t the committee
    spare the communications person to work for a week or two fulltime on this
    special election, or is the one press release each week just too much. What
    about the fundraising person, you would think for $50K she might be able to
    spare some time since it doesn’t appear there is much fundraising going on?

  • Rip B.

     This loss is a total embarrassment, how can the State Committee and the
    Speaker allow a loss in the Speaker’s hometown? This was not your normal
    mid-term special election; this was for the Speaker’s Chief of Staff’s seat in
    the Speaker’s hometown – duh!
     

  • Anonymous

    Very convenient reporting. The Dems are always unorganized. The fact remains, voters are PO’ed at the direction the Speaker is taking the state. Period. It ain’t no rocket science…
     

  • Anonymous

    typical about a  state gop chair who knows nothing about what he is doing. probably he had to much tea!!!