Kelly Ayotte, a former US senator from New Hampshire, is running in the Republican primary to succeed Chris Sununu as governor of the Granite State. At some point, no doubt, she’ll take aim at her rival for the GOP nomination, former state senator Chuck Morse. For now, she is having more fun bashing the state from which tens of thousands of New Hampshire voters have fled in recent years: Massachusetts.
“I’m running for governor because New Hampshire is one election away from becoming Massachusetts,” Ayotte has said repeatedly since kicking off her campaign last month.
Dissing Massachusetts is a time-honored tradition among New Hampshire conservatives, who in turn are regarded with disdain by many Bay State liberals. In a July 26 column, my colleague Yvonne Abraham suggested that Ayotte would rather run against Massachusetts because focusing on her fellow Republicans would be too depressing. Like the Republican Party generally, she wrote, the New Hampshire GOP “has become the bar scene from ‘Star Wars,’ dominated by extremists, conspiracy theorists, culture war obsessives, and cultish devotees of former president Donald Trump.”
Far be it from me to deny that crackpots aplenty are active in Republican politics these days. For normal conservatives like Sununu and Ayotte, maneuvering in GOP circles is indeed like operating in the Mos Eisley spaceport, which Obi-Wan described to Luke Skywalker as a “hive of scum and villainy.”
That said, Ayotte knows that tweaking the ultra-blue state south of New Hampshire is a great way to generate lots of publicity — and that publicity in Massachusetts can only help boost her profile at home. “I’m never going to be popular in Massachusetts and that’s perfectly okay with me,” she tweeted. To a Republican in New Hampshire, few things are sweeter than criticism from pundits and politicos in Massachusetts.
But that isn’t the whole story. Campaign shenanigans aside, there really are significant differences between the two states. If there weren’t, would so many Massachusetts residents yearn to live in New Hampshire?
Writing about the Ayotte vs. Massachusetts skirmishing, New Hampshire commentator Andrew Cline — president of the Josiah Bartlett Center, a liberty-oriented think tank in Concord — picks up the “Star Wars” analogy and runs with it.
“If New Hampshire is the Mos Eisley cantina, Massachusetts is the Empire,” Cline observes tartly. The Empire, after all, is controlled “by a small group of elites who seek to consolidate power and impose order on the universe.” Differences of scale aside, that isn’t so different from Massachusetts, which Cline describes as “a one-party state where the primary political disagreements are over how much money to tax from the people and spend on behalf of favored constituencies, thus further consolidating the ruling party’s power.”
Cline acknowledges that New Hampshire has a certain reputation, not entirely undeserved, for attracting “Yankee hillbillies, anti-tax zealots, bearded weirdos, flannel-wrapped survivalists, home-brewing crypto farmers, and gun-toting charity gamblers.” But that is an effect of a serious philosophical cause: New Hampshire places a premium on freedom over order, while Massachusetts has a preference for order over liberty.
It is not a mere whim that long ago led the New Hampshire Legislature to adopt “Live Free or Die” as the state’s motto. In the Granite State, ordinary citizens are entrusted with considerable authority and government is restricted. In the Bay State, by contrast, residents are allowed only what the state permits — and woe to those who buck the system. For good reason it was in Massachusetts, not New Hampshire, that “witches” were hanged.
Even now, the differences between Massachusetts and New Hampshire are striking. Some examples:
▪ New Hampshire is safer. The violent crime rate is less than half the rate in Massachusetts.
▪ New Hampshire taxes are low. When the states are ranked by overall tax burden, New Hampshire comes in at an ultralow 48 out of 50. Massachusetts, on the other hand, is in the top 20.
▪ New Hampshire has two competitive parties. Unlike Massachusetts, where Democrats hold every statewide office, every seat in Congress, and nearly the entire state Legislature, elections in New Hampshire are more evenly matched.
None of which is to deny that Massachusetts is blessed with abundant gifts, from superlative health care to high-performing schools to championship sports teams. Many people would never live anywhere else. But Massachusetts cannot match New Hampshire’s culture of liberty, individualism, and tolerance. Granted, when Ayotte claims her state is “one election away” from losing everything that distinguishes it from Massachusetts, she exaggerates. Still, those distinctions are real and run deep, and New Hampshire voters aren’t about to give them up.