Interested observers of New Hampshire politics are still reeling over the 2006 election results which, with one swoop, turned virtual total control of state government over to the Democratic Party for the first time in more than a century. In fact, the Democrats have not consistently enjoyed majority status in the Granite State since the days of Franklin Pierce.
Yes, there have been Democratic governors in recent decades. There was even a Democratic majority in the state Senate as late as 1998, but the last time the N.H. House went to the Democrats was in the days of Prohibition. And, according to Secretary of State Bill Gardner, one must go back to 1874 to see both the Senate, House and governorship all controlled by the Democrats. The party last controlled the Executive Council in 1964. Gardner says Democrats received a phenomenal 83,000 in straight-ticket ballots alone, over 20,000 more than Republicans.
To make this election even more bitter for Republicans was the loss of the state’s two congressional seats, both occupied by what appeared to be fairly popular incumbents. Each likely never gave defeat a serious thought until maybe on election night itself, when the true scope of the Republican disaster made itself known across the nation.
This leaves only the state’s two U.S. Senate seats now in GOP hands, and if an optimistic, nay, jubilant Democratic Party has anything to say about it, one of those seats could join their ranks as well, in 2008 when junior Senator John E. Sununu is up for re-election. It will be a presidential year, and if the Republicans cannot pull themselves together with a strong national ticket and build a good organization on the local level (the latter of which they need to begin to do right now), we might see arguably the state’s most popular Democrat, Governor John Lynch, heading for Washington City sooner than you can sing Franklin Roosevelt’s old theme song, “Happy Days Are Here Again.”
Of course, Governor Lynch at this time professes no interest in heading for that big white dome on the Potomac. In fact he’s had his press spokesperson say as much. But don’t you believe it. Rare is the political animal who willingly gives up an opportunity to put his mark on the pages of national history, especially during such crucial times as these. Certainly, if the governor’s current popularity holds even half as much during the next two years, he will find it hard to resist his party’s call to service on the national stage. If such a contest develops, it will be a sight to watch, as one should also never underestimate the young Sununu and the strategic talents of his formidable father, the former governor and White House chief of staff. At the moment, however, a little awe-shucks posturing about such a high subject becomes a governor who has just pulled off the biggest electoral landslide in state history.
For Republicans, there are long days ahead of rebuilding morale and organizations at the local and state levels. For Democrats, the job is now to address citizen anger over skyrocketing property taxes, additional user fees and the possibility that an activist court will force the imposition of a state income tax, to deal with a school funding crisis the Republicans have refused to solve for a decade.
Yup, happy days are here indeed. NH
Dean Dexter is a freelance writer and former contributing editor of this magazine. He served three terms in the New Hampshire House in the 1980s as a Republican member from Laconia and two terms as a Belknap County Commissioner.