In the end, voters in New Hampshire proved they deserved the attention showered on them by presidential candidates and the millions of dollars in advertisements aimed at their television sets ahead of Tuesday’s election. The swing state featured some of the closest contests in the country.
Democrat Maggie Hassan, the governor, defeated Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte by about 1,000 votes. Carol Shea-Porter, a Democrat, ousted US Representative Frank Guinta, by 1.3 percentage points. And as of Wednesday evening, Hillary Clinton led Donald Trump by .02 percent — an advantage so slim that media organizations have yet to call the race.
But New Hampshire voters, who often pride themselves on being independent-minded with their political picks, declined to give Democrats their full slate.
The GOP nominee for governor, Chris Sununu, defeated Democrat Colin Van Ostern by the largest margin of any major race in the state — 2.3 percent. Republicans also maintained majorities in the state House, state Senate, and Executive Council.
“I see the 2016 election as proof that the New Hampshire voters really relish their purpleness,” said Tom Rath, a former Republican National Committeeman from New Hampshire.
But just over a decade ago, New Hampshire was still a shade of red. And local experts said Tuesday’s election results show the Granite State is continuing along the path of becoming a solidly blue state much like the rest of New England — although the transformation could take years.
“Demographic trends in the state will favor Democrats more in the future than maybe ever before,” said Andrew Smith, director of the survey center at University of New Hampshire. “What happens in the most recent election isn’t going to change that one way or the other.”
For 100 years — from 1896 to 1996 — New Hampshire was about as Republican as any state in the nation. All of the state’s major political battles were among members of the GOP. In 1978, John H. Sununu ran for office for the first time, seeking a seat on the Executive Council. He lost the seven-way primary to Warren Rudman, a future US senator, but Sununu began a family GOP legacy that later included his son, John E. Sununu, who would also become a US senator.
On Tuesday night, another Sununu son, Executive Councilor Chris Sununu, was elected governor, becoming the third member of his family to hold major office in the state.
But Chris Sununu, who is the first Republican elected to the corner office in 14 years, was really the only piece of real good news for his state’s party.
In nearly every other contest, the status quo was maintained or Democrats made gains: Ayotte conceded to Hassan on Wednesday evening, Shea-Porter defeated Guinta, and in the Second District, US Representative Ann McLane Kuster fended off a challenge from Republican Jim Lawrence. Democrats picked up seats in the Legislature too, despite a map that does not favor the party.
“Like we did in the 2014 elections, New Hampshire Democrats found a way to buck the national Republican trend in 2016,” said New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley.
To be sure, many New Hampshire voters also split their tickets. Sununu received more votes in the state than GOP nominee Donald Trump, Ayotte, and both GOP candidates for Congress. And over 15,000 more voters cast ballots in the US Senate race than in the presidential contest.
But Smith, the UNH pollster, found Democrats won typically Republican towns for the first time because they are growing with new people who are college-educated and voted more Democratic.
“No state has a set of voters set in stone, and New Hampshire is particularly dynamic,” said Smith. “The state is already a Democratic state in presidential years, and it is interesting this continued this year where it didn’t in other places in the country. The trend line will only continue here.”