Hassan’s Decision Changes Outlook in Two New Hampshire Races

by Nathan L. Gonzales October 5, 2015 · 12:02 PM EDT

After months of speculation, Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan announced her bid to challenge GOP Sen. Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire, setting up what should be one of the most competitive senate races in the country. 

Hassan’s decision is yet another victory for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which continues to succeed in fights with the other Democratic campaign committees for top recruits. But it won’t be an easy race. 

The matchup between Ayotte and Hassan features a pair of top candidates in a swing state. But the senator appears to start in a solid position. An August 3-6 poll by Hart Research, a Democratic firm, for Planned Parenthood showed Ayotte with a 58 percent job approval rating, compared to 31 percent who disapproved. Although that was a stunning contrast to an August 21-24 automated survey by Public Policy Polling, another Democratic firm, which pinned the senator’s job rating at 38 percent approve and 46 percent disapprove. Ayotte led Hassan by a point in the PPP poll by a single point and 3 points, 48 percent to 45 percent, in an August 26-September 2 NBC News/Marist poll.

The bottom line is that Democratic chances improve with Hassan in the race. We’re changing our rating from Lean Republican to Tossup/Tilt Republican. A reasonable case can be made for Pure Tossup, and it’s possible that Donald Trump or other GOP candidates can damage the Republican brand and make it more difficult (or even impossible) for Ayotte to win, but the senator starts the race in decent shape, including $4 million in campaign funds at the end of June.

Without Hassan running for re-election, Democrats’ chances of holding New Hampshire’s governorship slip. But history is still on their side. 

Democrats have won nine of the last 10 gubernatorial elections. Craig Benson, the only Republican governor of New Hampshire in the last 20 years, was defeated for re-election in 2004 after a single, two-year term. 

But the open seat brings a level of uncertainty to the race, as the candidate fields take shape. 

GOP Executive Councilor Chris Sununu, brother of the former senator and son of the former governor, announced before Hassan’s decision. But other Republicans could join the races as well. Democrats could be headed for a primary between Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern, and Portsmouth City Councilor Stefany Shaheen, daughter of the state’s other senator. Of course other Democrats could jump in too. 

New Hampshire could be a presidential swing state and the open seat is an opportunity for Republicans, but the burden of proof is on Republicans to prove this is a pure tossup. For now, we’re changing our rating from Democrat Favored to Tossup/Tilt Democratic.