Proving the Rule

Our state is truly exceptional, often for going against the grain.Every election season political analysts around the country collectively search for the "Big Theme," or what the year's particular elections are all about. Once there is a general consensus everyone follows suit and predicts winners and losers within this framework.

Setting the stage for the oddsmakers this year - Scott Brown's improbable U.S. Senate win in Massachusetts, defeats of long-time incumbent U.S. Senators in Pennsylvania and Utah, a rise on the right from the Tea Party movement and lowering approval ratings for President Barack Obama,

New Hampshire politics is not immune to this national environment, but the Granite State also provides some of the greatest examples of politicians who buck the political conventional wisdom of the day.

Two of "the exceptions" - they come from both political parties and this year's Big Theme would argue that neither should be contenders. But both are expected to win their party's nomination to Congress on primary day, the 14th of this month.

Democratic Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter and former Republican Congressman Charlie Bass couldn't be any more different. Shea-Porter grew up humbly on the Seacoast where her high school guidance councilor advised her to consider secretarial school over college. She entered the political scene only in the last decade and her politics is proudly liberal.

Bass is the son of a congressman and the grandson of a governor. He attended private school and then Dartmouth College and was groomed at a young age for a life in politics. He won a seat in Congress in 1994 and served for 12 years. He now is running to get his old seat back.

There are those who dismiss Shea-Porter's election chances today for the same reasons they did when she first ran for office in 2006: she has little name recognition, she says what she thinks, she doesn't raise the money and she doesn't play the political game. Add to this the fact she is liberal, but her district is evenly split between parties. But she is uncontested for her primary this year and even though the national storyline says that Republicans will do well in November, Shea-Porter could easily be the exception once again.

Bass is practically the poster child for the no-chance candidacy this year, according to the other national storyline that sees establishment, moderate, under-funded candidates losing primaries. He is all three. Yet a growing number of analysts think he might be the one true exception who will not only win his primary, but possibly the whole thing.

New Hampshire's political climate has been described as quirky and not always in step with the national political mood. It elected to three terms a governor who wanted the state National Guard to have nuclear weapons and who personally pulled over speeding motorists. One of our U.S. Senators obsessed about America "controlling space" and displayed pictures of fetuses to Congress, while the other became the only person in history to retire from the U.S. Senate to instead run for and win a State Senate seat.

In any other state, politicians like Shea-Porter and Bass wouldn't stand a chance at winning in this year's election. But in New Hampshire we like our exceptions to the rule. NH

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