In New Hampshire, a Test for the Tea Party

Ayotte leads for New Hampshire GOP Senate nomination, but Tea Party-backed Lamontagne narrows the gap.

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Predictions are flying about the likelihood of the House and Senate changing hands in November's midterm elections. But before parties can plan their agendas for the next congressional session, their candidates first have to make it through their primaries. After Tuesday, the last big day of the 2010 primary season, nearly all of the nominees for the general election will have been chosen. Altogether, voters in seven states plus the District of Columbia on Tuesday will finalize their November ballots for 61 House seats, six Senate seats, and six gubernatorial races. Only the Hawaii primary and a House runoff primary in Louisiana will remain after this.

NEW HAMPSHIRE

New Hampshire's Senate race is closely watched this year, and many election analysts consider this seat to be a "toss-up" or "leaning Republican," come November. The seat in question is being vacated by Republican Judd Gregg, who is retiring after three terms.

Gregg's departure has opened up a wide field of Republican candidates--seven will be on Tuesday's ballot for the GOP nomination. A poll released September 3 by Republican polling and consulting firm Magellan Strategies showed that four of these candidates register significant support, with former New Hampshire Attorney General Kelly Ayotte leading the field. Ayotte has the support of 34 percent of likely Republican primary voters, giving her a 13-point lead over attorney Ovide Lamontagne's 21 percent. Businessmen Bill Binnie and Jim Bender come in third and fourth, with 17 and 13 percent, respectively. However, there is room for surprises on Tuesday, since 11 percent of the voters in the survey said they were undecided (margin of error 3.3 percent).

Ayotte has the most impressive list of endorsements among the Republican candidates, with several high-profile Republicans from across the country lending their support. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has named Ayotte one of her "Mama Grizzlies" of the election season, and Republican leaders like Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum have all voiced support. However, Binnie has the most substantial financial resources. The businessman has over $7 million in receipts over the election cycle, $5.8 million of which he loaned to the campaign himself. In the tough fight for the nomination, Binnie has spent much of this, with just over $425,000 left in his campaign account as of August 25. Ayotte, for her part, has raised over $2.9 million, with her most recent filing showing $823,431 in the bank. The Republican race had long been framed as a contest between Ayotte and Binnie, but Lamontagne's recent emergence as a top contender has complicated the situation. Lamontagne, boosted by some Tea Party-related support, has climbed into the top tier of candidates despite his significantly lower fundraising totals. Lamontagne has just over half a million dollars in receipts over the election cycle, with $109,000 remaining in his coffers.

The winner will face Rep. Paul Hodes, who is unopposed for the Democratic nod. Hodes has raised $3.8 million, and, with no primary to fight, is in the best financial shape of all candidates, with $1.2 million in his pocket as of August 25. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has put considerable resources into this race as well, and has already spent over $66,000 on promoting Hodes in New Hampshire.

Analysts from the Cook Political Report, the New York Times, and Congressional Quarterly characterize both of New Hampshire's House seats as "toss-ups" this year. Republicans are hoping to pick up seats in New Hampshire's House districts, both of which are currently represented by Democrats. In the First District, incumbent Democratic Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, is defending the seat she has held since 2007. Like Hodes, Shea-Porter has no Democratic challengers and has not been forced to exhaust her resources yet. Of the over $1 million she has raised, nearly $530,000 remain in the bank.