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N.H. seen tilting toward Democrats

Newcomers boost party's prospects in GOP territory

Graham Chynoweth left New Hampshire for college, but returned for its professional opportunities and lifestyle. Graham Chynoweth left New Hampshire for college, but returned for its professional opportunities and lifestyle. (Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff)
Email|Print| Text size + By Susan Milligan
Globe Staff / November 23, 2007

HENNIKER, N.H. - The dramatic Democratic sweep of major races in the Granite State in the 2006 election appears to be developing into a long-term trend as newcomers attracted to New Hampshire's high-tech jobs and affordable housing transform the state toward reliably Democratic turf.

Undeclared voters are moving leftward in their voting patterns, and a plurality of New Hampshire voters now identify themselves as Democrats, regardless of their actual party affiliations, according to data collected by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center. Democratic presidential candidates are drawing larger, more enthusiastic crowds as both parties campaign for the state's first-in-the-nation primary, to be held Jan. 8.

Pollsters say Democrats may also take a US Senate seat next year, which would leave just one Republican in New Hampshire's congressional delegation.

Republicans attribute their massive losses in the state in 2006 to voter discontent with President Bush and the war in Iraq, and pollsters say those elements indeed contributed to a lower turnout by GOP voters and protest votes for the Democrats.

But changes in the population of New Hampshire, driven largely by changes in the economy, are making it much more hospitable to Democrats and contributing to an overall trend favoring the party throughout the Northeast.

Forget the national caricature of New Hampshire residents - the 10th-generation folks who just want to be left alone and untaxed in their remote cabins, who can spot an outsider at 20 paces.

Granite Staters themselves are increasingly likely to be from out of state. New Hampshire natives who left the state after college are coming back, eager to raise families in a state with low taxes and more affordable housing, and retirees are moving to take advantage of the lifestyle as well. They are better educated, and their higher-paying jobs are driving up average wealth in New Hampshire.

Those residents tend to be Democrats or independents, analysts say, and the independents are leaning more heavily Democratic in recent years, buttressing the party's prospects here.

"It's a function of demographics and technology," said Dean Spiliotis, an independent political analyst. The Democratic trend "is more than a blip at this point, and it could be 10 years at a minimum before there's a change in direction" of the state's politics, he added.

The numbers are startling: Democrats took control of both houses of the New Hampshire Legislature following last year's election for the first time since 1874, and Governor John Lynch, a Democrat, was reelected, two years after he defeated a Republican incumbent in 2004.

Both the state's US House seats flipped from Republican to Democratic in last year's elections, leaving New England with a single GOP member in the House. Former Democratic governor Jeanne Shaheen is already running slightly ahead of sitting Senator John Sununu, a Republican, in polls on next year's election. Democrats have won three of the last four presidential election contests in New Hampshire, and five of the last six gubernatorial races.

And if the demographic trends continue, the Democrats are likely to retain or expand their reach in New Hampshire, which is looking more and more like the rest of New England in its political behavior, according to Andrew Smith, director of the UNH Survey Center.

The Granite State's new residents are "not only highly educated Democrats, but highly educated, politically active Democrats," Smith said. "So you get a higher turnout advantage" for the party on Election Day.

New Hampshire still retains its New England charm, with its mountains, apple orchards, and bucolic towns like Henniker, where a resident selling pumpkins simply left an unattended can for buyers to leave money for the Halloween gourds.

Younger adults are finding new opportunities and a culturally richer lifestyle in places like Manchester, which has undergone a metamorphosis in the past decade. Old mills on Commercial Street now house high-tech companies. A new civic center downtown is home to the Manchester Monarchs, a minor league hockey team, and offers modern and classical music concerts. The main drag on Elm Street, once dotted with abandoned storefronts, now features many trendy restaurants.

Graham Chynoweth, a 29-year-old lawyer, was anxious to leave his hometown of Canterbury, N.H., to attend college and law school in California and North Carolina, and considered settling in a big city like Boston. Instead, Chynoweth moved back to the Granite State, where he said he can find both professional opportunity and a lifestyle difficult to afford on the other side of the border. "You can buy a house. You have access to cultural activities," said Chynoweth, a Democrat.

Older adults, too, are attracted to New Hampshire, contributing to the overall aging of the state. Many towns have age-restricted housing, appealing to retirees looking for quiet communities with low property taxes, Smith said.

Many wrongly assume the state's increasingly blue political tint is due to hordes of liberals moving over from Massachusetts, he said. Many Bay Staters indeed cross the border - a three-bedroom house in North Andover runs about $100,000 more than a similar abode 10 miles away in New Hampshire, he said - but those voters tend to be Republicans fleeing the liberalism of Massachusetts.

Bay State Republicans tend the stay that way, and are contributing to the GOP voting patterns along New Hampshire's southern border, Smith said, while out-of-state Democrats and left-leaning independent are adding their voices to communities in central and upper New Hampshire, making those regions more Democratic in their voting patterns.

Dennis Kalob, a 48-year-old sociology professor, is one such Democrat who made the move to New Hampshire, drawn to the state's natural beauty and a job at one of the state's many higher education institutions, New England College, in Henniker, just west of Concord, the capital. When Kalob first moved from New Orleans more than a decade ago, he felt conspicuously in the Democratic minority, a progressive in a state largely dominated by GOP lawmakers at the state and federal levels.

Now, Kalob senses a distinct move in his community toward the Democrats - including among some moderate and fiscally conservative Republicans who he says voted against their party last year as a protest against what they see as profligate federal spending and poor handling of the war.

Republicans, too, say their party has veered from its roots. Rick Russman, a 60-year-old lawyer and environmental activist in Kingston, wonders what happened to the party of Nelson Rockefeller and former New Hampshire senator Warren Rudman - Republicans who believed in fiscal restraint and small government.

"A lot of the [national] Republicans have tried to hold on to the right. Democrats have tried to move to the center," said Russman. But Russman, who describes himself as "pro-choice, pro-death penalty, pro-gun and pro-hunting" and a committed Republican, is thinking of supporting Shaheen for Senate.

"I want to see the Republican party come back to the values that Warren Rudman represented," Russman said. But "a lot of my friends have left the Republican party," he said.

Susan Milligan can be reached at milligan@globe.com.

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