Politics

In N.H., attack ads are beginning to sink in

Scott Brown (left) and Jeanne Shaheen.
Rich Beauchesne/Portsmouth herald/AP (left) Jim Cole/Associated press
Scott Brown (left) and Jeanne Shaheen.

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Chuck Wheeler doesn’t care about Jeanne Shaheen’s net worth or Scott Brown’s lack of New Hampshire street cred. He’s a hard-core Republican and disabled Vietnam vet living in the heart of the purplest voting precinct in a pivotal swing state, Manchester’s Ward 6.

To him, the race for a US Senate is no contest.

“I’m a conservative. I’m voting for Scott Brown. It doesn’t matter about their politics. I listen to all the spiel about Scott Brown’s big oil money and whatnot. It’s bull-hickey,” says Wheeler, 68.

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“Honey, he replaced a Democrat in Massachusetts, even if it was just for two damn years. Scott Brown’s a simple man — he’s no frigging politician — and I will always choose a good, simple man over a politician,” Wheeler says.

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A day of canvassing voters in Ward 6, where registered Democrats edge registered Republicans by just two voters (1,825 to 1,823), according to the state’s most recent figures, proved two things: Many people already have their minds made up — and whether they know it or not, the relentless campaign ads on television have already penetrated.

Ward 6 registered Republican Gerald Smith has stopped answering the phone. Too many pollsters asking him questions about candidates.

He will be voting for Brown, by default.

“I’m not a Republican anymore. I’m a conservative,” says Smith, 85, a retired small business owner. “I’m not impressed with either of them, but Shaheen is a Democrat and she’s done a messy job. I hear she supposedly voted with [President] Obama 98 percent of the time. I don’t know if that’s a fact, but that’s what I’m hearing from the constant TV ads and millions of circulars I’m getting.”

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He says he soured on Brown after he slid into Senator Ted Kennedy’s seat by beating his Democratic opponent, Martha Coakley, in 2010. “I figured any Republican who can take a Democrat’s seat must be OK. But he let the party down,” says Smith.

“What bothers me most is that in 99 percent of the ads you see on TV, they’re downing the other candidate instead of telling you about their own record. . . . But if Brown wins, he’s one more vote for Republicans in the Senate, and if we take over the Senate we can get rid of Dirty Harry whatshisname,” says Smith, referring to majority leader Harry Reid.

Dan Bergeron is a 52-year-old Democrat and former ward selectman who campaigned for Shaheen during her last two Senate races. He says he’s a little worried about the damage a recent Brown TV ad could do.

“They’re making the claim that Obama and Shaheen seem confused by the ISIS threats against the US. I turned to my son — who will be voting in his first election this fall — and said, ‘Do you really believe the president of the United States is confused?’ Yeah, that one could sway an undecided voter, but from my experience, people in Ward 6 are pretty party driven,” says Bergeron.

That ad strikes a particular low blow, says Bergeron, given that the two journalists recently beheaded by ISIS — James Foley and Steven Sotloff — both had New Hampshire ties.

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“That was a little insensitive, in my opinion. And I would think New Hampshire Republicans would feel that way, too,” says Bergeron.

‘I hear [Shaheen] supposedly voted with [President] Obama 98 percent of the time. I don’t know if that’s a fact, but that’s what I’m hearing from the constant TV ads and millions of circulars I’m getting.’

By contrast, he sees Shaheen’s ads as decidedly more positive and focused on her record.

“Her ads give a feel for where she stands. Even PolitiFact debunked that ad from a PAC saying her wealth increased greatly since taking office. It’s very much a misleading ad. Do I think it will sway voters? I sure hope not,” says Bergeron.

Sarah Matta, 48, says she just laughs off political ads. She’s bothered by voters who don’t learn about the issues. She’s a registered Republican, but lukewarm on Brown.

“He’s very much a liberal, and I don’t care for him at all. He doesn’t really know New Hampshire or represent New Hampshire well,” says Matta.

She’s undecided, but will likely vote along party lines on Nov. 4.

“As a single mom working three jobs to take care of my family, it bothers me that neither of the candidates is talking about what matters to me,” says Matta. Things that affect her tax bill, like the number of welfare recipients in New Hampshire, or things that affect her kids, like the push for the Common Core curriculum in schools.

“Even making drivers wear seat belts. Voters may think those issues aren’t things that take our freedoms away, but they are. Those fights in the Middle East, and ISIS, have been going on since biblical times. We shouldn’t be there. It’s not our fight,” says Matta.

Jeannette Martel, a retiree, says she’s been an independent voter her whole life.

“But I’m voting for Brown, and I’m very set on it. I can’t see why Shaheen people got all that stimulus money,” she says.

Martel is referring to a claim made in a recent attack ad, that Bill Shaheen’s law firm set up a “stimulus opportunities” team” in 2009 to help clients win a share of the federal money allotted to help jump-start the economy.

“And I think she’s voting with Obama too many times. She’s too aligned with Obama,” says Martel, quoting almost directly from another round of attacks on Shaheen’s voting record.

“I say if Brown gets elected, it can’t be worse than the way things are going now,” says Martel.