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Obama wins N.H.; Hassan elected governor

MANCHESTER, N.H. — President Obama won New Hampshire handily Tuesday night, delivering the coveted four electoral votes of this swing state to his column.

Obama was ahead, 52 percent to Romney’s 47 percent, with 91 percent of polls reporting on Wednesday morning — a spread that was 5 percentage points shy of Obama’s win in 2008, when he took the state by nearly 10 percentage points. The swing state victory helped deliver Obama a convincing reelection win Tuesday night.

At the Obama watch party at the Radisson hotel in downtown Manchester, the projected state win came shortly after the call of Pennsylvania for Obama, yielding buoyant recurring whoops from the mostly 20-something crowd.

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“There are moments in politics when you say: ‘Can we capture this?’ ” said Ned Helms, co-chairman of the Obama campaign in New Hampshire. “We grabbed it this time.”

Romney campaign officials in New Hampshire did not respond to a request for comment.

The win for Obama came alongside a decisive gubernatorial victory for Democrat Maggie Hassan, the former state senator who bested Ovide Lamontagne, a social conservative who argued that his stands on gay marriage and abortion were less important than the economic issues at play.

Too close to call were the two House races, pitting Democrat Carol Shea-Porter against incumbent Frank Guinta, and Democrat Ann McLane Kuster against incumbent Charles Bass.

Should those women win, New Hampshire would have an all-female federal delegation, along with a female governor.

With the national race divided so evenly for so long, this state was considered critical by both candidates — a potential firewall in the case of a race too close to call.

Both sides were keenly aware of the 2000 election when Al Gore lost New Hampshire by 7,000 votes. Had he won here, he would have claimed the White House. To that end, both sides lavished money and staff on New Hampshire and the candidates made multiple visits here – since January, seven for Obama and 10 for Romney, including one Monday night.

At times, it could feel like the men were trailing each other in this small state. Indeed, the Obama victory party Tuesday night was at the same site where in April, shortly before Romney clinched his party’s nomination, the former Massachusetts governor delivered a speech titled “A Better America Begins Tonight.”

For Romney, New Hampshire was supposed to have been a state easily won. He has a summer home here in Wolfeboro, he trounced his Republican rivals in the primary, and he governed Massachusetts with the sort of fiscal restraint favored here.

He ended his last full day of campaigning on Monday at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester, where he was joined on stage by Kid Rock — a counterpoint to President Obama’s boost on Monday from two musical supporters, Jay-Z and Bruce Springsteen, as he campaigned across Midwestern swing states.

As elsewhere, Romney’s argument to voters in New Hampshire pivoted around a boosted economic recovery. In his closing argument Monday night in Manchester, he said, “We’re one day away from a fresh start, one day away from the first day of a new beginning. My conviction is that better days are ahead.”

Indeed, the Nashua Telegraph, which backed Obama in 2008 but endorsed Romney this time, noted in its endorsement, “when we identified the key challenges facing the nation — jobs, the economy, and the national debt — we concluded [Obama] was not the best candidate to meet them. That person is former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. “

But unemployment levels in the state have remained below national levels, diminishing the urgency of that argument.

Meanwhile, Obama and local Democrats, including the gubernatorial candidate, sought to turn the conversation to social issues, such as abortion, which tend to draw a more moderate reaction from New Hampshire voters than the stances Romney staked out in the primary and beyond. Democrats, too, emphasized the record of the state Legislature, which in 2010 became dominated by Tea Party backers. Casting the body as radical and out of step with moderate voters, Democrats portrayed their races as efforts to stop the Tea Party — an effort that had spillover to the presidential contest.

“There was a sense among voters that the Tea Party has too much control of the Republican party,” said Wayne Lesperance, a political science professor at New England College. And “the local legislature was the personification of the Tea Party in New Hampshire.” As such, he said, Obama’s victory could be viewed as “less of an endorsement and more of a rejection.”

Still, to many, the embrace of Obama reinforces New Hampshire’s steady march to the left. Long a reliably Republican-leaning state, New Hampshire trended left with the 2004 election, when it backed John Kerry.

The shift picked up steam in 2006 and again in 2008, when voters handed significant victories to Democrats, including Obama.

In 2010, voters in the mid-term elections swung right, tossing out Democrats and installing a raft of Republicans.

Tuesday represented, to some, a swing back to the purple, if not blue category.

Harold Fink, 69, a retired postal worker from Manchester, was among the ranks of independent voters who came aboard to support Obama. “I didn’t trust Romney,” he said.

That feeling only grew when Romney aired an ad that misleadingly implied Chrysler was shifting Jeep production to China. “That’s when I knew for sure,” he said.

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