The New York Times five-thirty-eight has an outstanding series on state electoral geography. Today, they published one of our Battleground states: New Hampshire.
In 2012, New Hampshire — despite carrying just four electoral votes — is among the most important and is a major focus of both campaigns. Mitt Romney began a recent bus tour of America’s small towns in Stratham, N.H., and President Obama is scheduled to visit Strafford County on Monday.
270 to win
For both candidates New Hampshire represents not just four votes, but four of the final votes needed to get to, or stay in, the White House. On some of those maps, New Hampshire is the final push across the finish line.
The Bellwether: Merrimack County
Merrimack County, which is home to New Hampshire’s capital, Concord, has been a close barometer of the Democrats’ statewide strength since 2000, with Democratic support in the county consistently about 2 percentage points stronger than their statewide share of the vote. Concord itself, with its government workers, is solidly Democratic, but the towns surrounding it are Republican, almost balancing out the county.
A changing New Hampshire
“A third of the potential electorate in 2008 couldn’t vote in the state in 2000, either because they didn’t live in the state or because they weren’t old enough,” said Andrew Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire’s Survey Center. The changes have dramatically changed New Hampshire’s political landscape from among the most Republican states in the Northeast to one where Mr. Obama was able to win every county in 2008.
2008 vs 2012
But Mr. Obama is unlikely to do as well this year. The recession has slowed the number of newcomers, arresting the state’s shift to the left. Moreover, Mr. Romney’s brand of Republicanism — fiscally minded but less strident than many Republicans on social issues — resonates with many New Hampshire voters. The state, like many others, swung wholly to the right in 2010, and both parties now have areas of support they can count on.
The Democratic strongholds in New Hampshire start with the Connecticut River Valley in the southwest, which runs from the Massachusetts border north through Keene to Hanover and Lebanon. It is an area filled with college students and is a popular destination for affluent retirees from New York who have bought second homes in the area’s mountains. New Hampshire’s coast is also a left-leaning region, with a heavy concentration of Democrats in Portsmouth and Durham, where the University of New Hampshire is located, and in old mill towns like Somersworth, Rollinsford and Rochester.
The heart of the Republicans’ territory lies between the coast and Cheshire and Sullivan counties in the west. Though the cities of Nashua and Manchester vote Democratic, the small towns around them are solidly Republican (Hudson, Windham, Salem, Derry and Pelham, for example). Somewhat paradoxically, the towns close to New Hampshire’s border with loyally liberal Massachusetts are also Republican territory. “Democrats call that area ‘the Bermuda Triangle,’ where Democratic candidates go to die,” Mr. Smith said.