The 24-member New Hampshire State Senate and 5-member Executive Council are both up for re-election every two years. Despite the fact that the districts for both were drawn by Republicans, both were hotly contested in 2014. Coming into 2014, the Republicans controlled the State Senate by a slim 13-11 margin, while the Democrats had a 3-2 margin on the Executive Council. In the 2014 elections, the Republicans picked up one seat each on both the State Senate and the Executive Council, resulting in them gaining control of the latter and slightly expanding their margin in the former. Below, I will examine both the State Senate and Executive Council results in more detail. Let’s start with the State Senate (click on the maps to see them full size).
The first thing to note about this map is that the Democratic incumbents in Districts 5 and 10 both ran unopposed in 2014. Both districts are heavily Democratic anyway, so there was never much of a chance that Republicans could make either of those districts competitive. Because those Democrats were unopposed, Democrats actually won, very narrowly, the popular vote for all state senate races, though they wouldn’t have if Republicans had contested those districts.
The general pattern across the state was that most Democratic incumbents held their own while most Republican incumbents substantially outperformed the usual Republican baseline in their districts. This is particularly evident in Districts 2 and 3, where the Republican incumbents Jeanie Forrester and Jeb Bradley both won in landslides despite their districts being marginal-to-Democratic-leaning in most statewide elections. The only Republican incumbent who did not substantially outperform the Republican baseline was District 9’s Andy Sanborn of Bedford. Sanborn’s district is Democratic-leaning except for his heavily-Republican hometown, which provided Sanborn’s entire margin of victory in both 2012 and 2014. Sanborn is also an ultra-conservative Tea Partier who has made many controversial statements, including one where he compared the Affordable Care Act to a deadly plane crash. Statements like these are clearly one of the reasons why he has not been able to rack up the kinds of margins that many other Republican state senators in New Hampshire have.
Democratic performances were more mixed. As the above map and the first map both show, Democrat Jeff Woodburn, of the 1st District, continued his domination in Coös County, and even improved slightly from his 2012 performance. Despite 2012 generally being a better year for Democrats than 2014, Woodburn’s improvement in 2014 is not a huge surprise, considering that other Democrats, including both Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen, also did very well in Coös County in 2014. Democrats did worse in 2014 than in 2012 in most of the rest of the state, with a few exceptions. District 11 is colored in dark blue because Democrats did not contest it in 2012, but they did in 2014. Democrats also improved in much of District 8, where popular moderate Republican Bob Odell retired, although the Republicans still won that district. Democrat David Watters of the 4th District improved slightly from his underwhelming 2012 victory where he substantially underperformed Obama. Democrats Lou D’Allesandro of the 20th, Bette Lasky of the 13th, and Martha Fuller Clark of the 21st all saw substantial decreases from their 2012 landslide victories, but all won by solid margins anyway. Democrat Dan Feltes easily held the heavily-Democratic, Concord-based 15th district, though with a decline in performance from 2012. And Democrat Andrew Hosmer of the 7th district (Laconia) ran the closest state senate race of 2014, narrowly defeating Republican Kathleen Lauer-Rago by less than one percent.
Let’s now go on to the Executive Council. Since it has only five districts, I will discuss each one individually.
The First District is basically the northern half of the state. For over 20 years, it was represented a moderate Republican, Raymond Burton. Burton was very popular in the district; he won his final re-election in 2012 by a 57-38 margin, and New Hampshire Republicans purposefully drew the district to be Democratic-leaning because they knew Burton could handle it. However, Burton died in 2013, and the ensuing special election was narrowly won by a substantially more conservative Republican, Joe Kenney of Wakefield, which is located in the southeastern corner of the district. Kenney then won a rematch in 2014 against the same opponent by an even narrower margin, 50.7-49.3. You can see on the second map above that the only place where Kenney significantly outperformed Burton’s 2012 performance was in the area around his hometown, and that he performed substantially worse than Burton almost everywhere else. This underperformance was particularly strong in Coös County and northern Grafton County, not surprising considering that Burton lived in Bath, a small town in northern Grafton County. Mike Cryans, the Democrat who was twice narrowly defeated here by Kenney, has already announced that he will run again in 2016, and considering that 1) 2016 will likely be a better year for Democrats than 2014 was, and 2) turnout, particularly at Dartmouth and Plymouth State, will be higher in 2016, Cryans has a pretty good shot of finally defeating Kenney.
The Second District, which spans the state from Keene to Dover and Durham, and takes in Concord in between, was intended as the one Democratic vote sink. And sure enough, it has twice elected Colin Van Ostern, a progressive Democrat, to represent it. Van Ostern lost a bit of ground from his dominating 2012 win, but he still won fairly easily, and he even improved on his 2012 performance in a few towns. Van Ostern is a possible candidate for Governor or Congress in the future, and if he does run, his district will easily stay in the blue column.
The Third District is located in the southeast corner of New Hampshire. Based on the recent election results, it is the most Republican of the five Executive Council districts, and is currently represented by Republican Chris Sununu, brother of former U.S. Senator John E. Sununu. Sununu won re-election in a landslide last year, winning all but the three most Democratic towns in the district (Portsmouth, Newmarket, and Exeter), and improving on his 2012 performance in every town and ward in the district. Sununu is also a possible gubernatorial candidate in 2016, and considering that most of the state legislators in the district are also Republicans, the Republicans should be able to find a strong candidate and hold Sununu’s seat without much trouble.
The Fourth District is based in Manchester, and also includes several strongly conservative nearby towns as well as towns to the northeast of Manchester. This was intended to be a Republican district, and indeed it voted for Romney in 2012, however Democrat Chris Pappas won it in 2012 and was re-elected by a 52-48 margin in 2014. Both of Pappas’ wins were mainly powered by his popularity in Manchester, where he received over 60 percent of the vote in both 2012 and 2014. Pappas is another possible gubernatorial candidate in 2016, however unlike with Van Ostern and Sununu, Pappas’ district would be relatively difficult for Democrats to hold without him. The only Democratic state senator who could realistically run is Donna Soucy, while several Republicans could run. However, Obama won this district in 2008, so the Democrats would still have a chance to hold it in 2016 if it were open.
Finally, the Fifth District is based in Nashua and also includes most of the rest of Hillsborough County as well as a less-Democratic portion of Cheshire County. This district, like the Fourth, voted for Obama in 2008 and Romney in 2012. It was narrowly won by Democrat Deborah Pignatelli in 2012, but she did not run for re-election in 2014 and the district was picked up by Republican David Wheeler. Wheeler improved on the Republicans’ 2012 performance in all but one town, and he posted significant improvements in Nashua and the surrounding towns. This pattern was not unique to this race. As mentioned earlier, the one state senate district that Republicans picked up in 2014 was also based in Nashua. In addition, Republicans performed substantially better in Nashua in the statewide races than they usually do. Nashua is usually about a point more Democratic than Manchester, however in 2014 it was a few points more Republican instead. It is unclear exactly why Nashua moved to the right in the 2014 elections, but both parties should pay close attention to how Nashua votes in 2016, to see if its right turn in 2014 was just a blip, or part of a trend.