The way one pundit sees it, Democrats threw a fastball at Republican Gov. Chris Sununu’s head only to have him snatch it out of midair and hurl it back at them. And he will enter his third term with some more players on his team.
Democrats who have controlled both chambers of the state Legislature for the last two years tried to use the governor’s record number of vetoes to their advantage during the campaign. Instead, Sununu successfully incorporated their attacks into his own message, said University of New Hampshire political science professor Dante Scala.
“Again and again we heard, ‘Sununu’s being an obstructionist,’ but Sununu basically leaned right into it and said, ’If you like what I’ve been doing in Concord, send me more Republican legislators who can help me in controlling the Democrats,” he said. “He just stepped back and slammed it right back at them.”
That strategy appeared to pay off in at least one chamber. According to the secretary of state ’s office, the Senate flipped from a 14-10 Democratic advantage to 14-10 Republican majority on Tuesday. Results haven’t been posted for the 400 House seats, and The Associated Press has not called enough races to determine the balance of power in that chamber.
Heading into the election, Democrats held 230 House seats, Republicans held 157 and there were 13 vacancies. The New Hampshire Republican Party said Wednesday that Republicans gained majorities in both chambers, while the Democratic Party chairman said only that Democrats failed to expand their majorities.
Sununu could have run his own campaign and ignored down-ballot races, Scala said. Instead, he and the state GOP aggressively used the governor’s political capital to advocate for legislative candidates.
“There was reason to be cautious, but he went the other way,” Scala said.
Sununu defeated state Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes, a Democrat, on Tuesday, but in Washington races, voters backed Democrat Joe Biden for president and reelected three Democrats to Congress: U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas and U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster.
“How many Biden-Sununu-Shaheen-Pappas-Republican state legislator voters were out there?” Scala said. “I think the answer is quite a significant number.”
Tuesday’s results highlight both the willingness of voters to split tickets — that’s voting for candidates from different parties — and the widespread, bipartisan support Sununu has enjoyed for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, said Wayne Lesperance, a political science professor at New England College.
“Polling suggests he’s done very well with that, and voters rewarded him for it,” he said. “And I think when voters think of the governor’s agenda and the governor’s work, that extends to the Legislature, and I think the outcomes are reflecting that.”
Tuesday marked the seventh time in 25 years New Hampshire has sent one party to Washington and the other to the governor’s office. In the most recent three instances, Republican governors were paired with Democrats in Congress; the reverse happened the first four times.
Mixed results are also common when it comes to control of the state Legislature. In the last 13 elections, voters elected governors and legislative majorities from the same party five times. There was only one election - 2002 - that resulted in the same party holding all four congressional seats, the governor’s office and control of both state legislative bodies.