With an evenly split US Senate, Democrats are looking ahead to next year’s midterm elections knowing they cannot lose any ground, or they face the prospect of giving up control to Republicans.
The good news for them: There isn’t a single Democrat up for reelection in a state that Donald Trump won last year. In addition, in places like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, Democrats might be favored to flip a seat currently held by Republicans who aren’t seeking reelection.
The bad news: There are three very vulnerable Democrats, and probably none more so at the moment than New Hampshire’s Maggie Hassan. Remember, for every seat Democrats lose, they need to win a seat currently occupied by a Republican just to remain even.
Hassan’s unique issues became clear in a series of small news developments recently that have largely gone under the radar in the national political conversation.
- A poll last week put her favorability rating at just 42 percent.
- Republican Governor Chris Sununu continues to make comments that imply he is likely to run against Hassan. Last week he said he was “definitely open” to running.
- Sununu has a 55 percent favorability rating, and a 72 percent job approval rating.
- Sununu leads Hassan, 48 percent to 46 percent, in that same poll.
- Even if Sununu opts not to run, Hassan appears likely to face the person she barely beat, former senator Kelly Ayotte.
It’s that combination of factors that puts Hassan in the toughest spot for any Democratic Senate incumbent in the nation.
Consider her last election. Hassan, a former two-term governor, only defeated incumbent Ayotte by a little over 1,000 votes in 2016. Close observers of the race believe Hassan’s victory was partly the result of circumstance: She was a strong challenger who smartly rode the coattails of Hillary Clinton’s close win in the state, and Ayotte lost some Republican votes over her criticism of Trump following the Access Hollywood video. There was, after all, a more Trump-y third party option on the ballot — Aaron Day — who got about 18,000 votes.
Another piece of background: In the constantly shifting world of New Hampshire swing-state politics, the general rule is that in a presidential election year, Democrats have a slight advantage. In midterm years, Republicans have cleaned up lately, especially at the State House. So Hassan’s reelection in a midterm year, particularly after her narrow win, was always going to be a problem.
There are undoubtedly other Democrats running for reelection around the country who might seem to have a tougher reelection path in 2022, namely Senator Mark Kelly in Arizona and Senator Raphael Warnock in Georgia. Yes, Georgia and Arizona are more Republican, historically. However, at the moment, one could argue they are in a better spot than Hassan. Both just won a few months ago and have proven they can raise major money and win, something Hassan hasn’t done in five years. Also, neither Kelly nor Warnock face the kind of imminent threat of a challenge from a popular statewide figure like Hassan does.
In Warnock’s case, the toughest challenger potentially out there is former senator Kelly Loeffler, who has never won an election. For Kelly in Arizona, it’s Governor Doug Ducey, who had a horrible 35 percent approval rating in October. And while Ducey recently met with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, in January he ruled out running against Kelly in 2022.
But back to Hassan. During her first term, she was unable to do anything that really improved her standing. Progressives have been sour on her for a while over her attempts to brand herself as a moderate, but perhaps the bigger problem is that those in the middle aren’t buying the branding, either. Independent voters in the UNH survey — who make up the biggest chunk of New Hampshire’s electorate — said they would vote for Sununu over Hassan by a margin of three to one.
This followed a poll by Saint Anselm College in February that said only 39 percent of Granite State voters believed Hassan deserved reelection, while 47 percent said it was time for someone else.
In other words, after two terms as governor and a term as a US senator, New Hampshire voters pretty much know how they feel about her. When it comes to actually electing her, it is a matter of who she is running against.
Who actually runs will be the next piece of the reelection puzzle.