New Hampshire, once a bastion of bedrock Yankee conservatism, gave Democrat Barack Obama a resounding early win over Republican John McCain tonight, voting overwhelmingly to commit its four electoral votes to the Democrat.
Obama, who lost the state's January primary in a stunner to Hillary Clinton just days after his huge win in Iowa's caucuses, racked up insurmountable margins in the state's southern population centers and drained votes from more reliably Republican areas in the state's northern counties.
And tonight's decisive results provided stark proof of how much this state, which claims to have birthed the Republican Party in 1854—which Ripon, Wis., vigorously disputes--has moved left, joining its New England neighbors as reliably Democratic. George Bush won the state in a squeaker in 2000, and Democrat John Kerry from neighboring Massachusetts eked out a victory in 2004. But the state's battleground status, for now, appears to be a thing of the past.
McCain had made what many viewed as a sentimental visit Sunday to Peterborough, N.H., for a town hall meeting, even as some recent polls showed him trailing Obama by double digits. It was in Peterborough that McCain in both 2000 and 2008 held his last town hall meetings before winning the state's crucial early presidential primary. (The visit may have also been intended to bolster incumbent GOP Sen. John Sununu in his sagging and ultimately unsuccessful effort to stave off a challenge by former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen.)
But nostalgia--and the good feelings McCain holds for the Granite State--could not overcome the dramatic demographic shift that has occurred over the past decade in this once bedrock conservative state. Since 2000 when 38 percent of those who voted in the presidential election were Republicans and 33 percent were Democrats, the GOP dominance has evaporated, says Andrew Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center.
Now, Democrats make up about 46 percent of the state's electorate and Republicans, about 33 percent. The rest are "undeclared." And though the undeclared voters--those not citing a party preference--are commonly thought of as swing voters, says Smith, they really aren't. Up to 45 percent consistently align with Democrats, he says, and 30 percent with Republicans. "The political environment here for any Republican is not good at all," says Smith. About a third of this year's potential voters weren't part of the electorate in 2000, he said, either because they are new to the state or weren't eligible to vote eight years ago.
State GOP Chairman Fergus Cullen said that in mid-September, when the race was a dead heat, there was real hope that McCain could pull out a win despite the changes in the electorate. "Coming out of the convention, we were riding high--those were the best times the party had had since the 2004 [national] victory," he said. "Then the Wall Street crash and financial concerns turned it, and a competitive race slipped away."
Here in New Hampshire, Obama won with a message of change and with an opponent in McCain who was unable to slip the bonds of an unpopular president or to provide a compelling case to a left-shifting electorate that he was the best candidate to lead the country out of economic crisis.
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