Saturday, 2:15 PM
Shaheen beats Sununu in New Hampshire Senate race
(Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
Shaheen gave two thumbs up as she took the stage to give her victory speech at a Manchester, N.H. hotel.
By Matt Viser, Globe Staff
LONDONDERRY, N.H. – Former Democratic governor Jeanne Shaheen won a hard-fought rematch for the United States Senate, defeating incumbent Republican John E. Sununu in a campaign that attracted attention and money from across the nation.
NBC called the race at about 8:15 p.m. for Shaheen, who will become the first female US senator in the history of New Hampshire.
In defeating Sununu, Shaheen has ousted the youngest member of the US Senate and a rising star in the Republican Party.
The New Hampshire Senate race has been one of the most carefully monitored campaigns in the country, with two deeply experienced politicians facing off in a rematch of a 2002 contest that ended with two GOP operatives in jail over a phone-jamming scandal.
The two candidates have spent $11 million on the race, according to campaign finance reports as of Oct. 15, and in addition, the Republican and Democratic senatorial committees have poured money into the race for blistering attack advertisements that have blanketed prime time television across the state and in Massachusetts.
In one of the more memorable ads in the race, national Democrats showed President Bush’s face morphing into Sununu’s – a spot that Sununu called “one of the worst things I’ve seen in politics.”
In what was by no means a surprise, incumbent Governor John Lynch, a Democrat, won by what was projected to be a huge margin over Republican state Senator Joe Kenney.
Shaheen, whose campaign theme was "A New Direction," ran as an agent of change who can reform Washington. She seized on the economy and people's fears about the financial collapse, running televised ads criticizing Sununu’s support for a partial privatization of Social Security.
Sununu countered that Shaheen is a leaf-in-the-wind who stakes out positions based on polls. He also portrayed her as a liberal who will vote to raise taxes as he ran as an independent-minded politician who has been willing to challenge his party.
Polls consistently showed Shaheen ahead, although Sununu appeared to tighten the race in the last few weeks using impressive debate performances and a bevy of attack ads. But he also had to overcome a leftward shift that has been brewing in New Hampshire for several years.
A third of the New Hampshire electorate has changed in the last eight years, and new voters are more likely to be Democrats than Republicans, according to a study released this month by the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire.
Statewide, voter registration has also eroded for Republicans. In 2002, the last time Sununu and Shaheen faced off, Republicans had an 11-point lead in registered voters. Now, both parties have about 31 percent of the electorate.
“The composition of the electorate is changing,” said Wayne Lesperance, a political science professor at New England College in Henniker.. “This may be the watershed election that demonstrates how much power that change is going to have.”
According to exit polls, Shaheen won in nearly every category, including all age groups, education levels, and income level. She also won among voters whose top issues were energy policy, the war in Iraq, the economy, and healthcare. The only category that Sununu carried was among the voters who said terrorism was the most important issue facing the country, according to the exit polls, based on interviews with 1,413 voters.
In an indication of how vitriolic the race was, nearly two-thirds of voters thought Shaheen unfairly attacked Sununu. But almost the same number also thought Sununu unfairly attacked Shaheen.
“Hallelujah,” Ann Krupp, a 48-year-old substitute teacher, said of the election being over. “Who can watch another ad or listen to another talk radio show?”
In Londonderry yesterday, traffic was backed up for nearly a mile, with some voters abandoning their cars to walk the last several hundred yards to cast their ballots. There was a man dressed up as Uncle Sam to greet them, and hundreds of signs on the roadways to try to influence them.
“I wanted to get rid of the old regime,” said Joseph Caputo, a 52-year-old attorney from Londonderry. “And the ads tying [Sununu] to Bush were very compelling.”
In more good news for New Hampshire Democrats, US Representative Carol Shea-Porter, believed to have been one of the most vulnerable Democrats in the country, defeated former congressman Jeb Bradley in a rematch in New Hampshire's First Congressional District.
In 2006, Shea-Porter, who had never held elected office, pulled off a shocking upset when she defeated Bradley by nearly 3 points in the only New England congressional district that voted for Bush in 2004.