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In N.H., moderate's rise reflects new climate, 9/15/96

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In N.H., moderate's rise reflects new climate
[City Edition]

Boston Globe (pre-1997 Fulltext) - Boston, Mass.

Author: Royal Ford and Ralph Jimenez, Globe Staff
Date: Sep 15, 1996
Start Page: B.3
Section: METRO/REGION
Text Word Count: 1122

Document Text


MANCHESTER -- Kristen Blanchette is a 23-year-old barber with an independent political streak, a moderate who commonly splits her votes between Republicans and Democrats.

This year, she is drawn to Jeanne Shaheen, the Democratic nominee for governor here.

"She's pro-choice and I'd like to see what a woman could do as governor," Blanchette said last week at the shop she shares with her stepfather. "The majority of my female friends are leaning toward her."

Blanchette is part of the rapidly evolving New Hampshire electorate, mercurial voters who have made the state less ideological and conservative than it once was and its elections more volatile.

Their ranks include independents, who make up about a third of the registered electorate, moderate Republicans, conservative Democrats and a group of disenfranchised, activist Republican women.

Records from the past two presidential elections show this to be a shifting force of about 170,000 active voters. They are, many observers say, the reason Bill Clinton got 50,000 more votes in 1992 than the Democrats got in the 1988 presidential race -- and why Ross Perot came from nowhere to win 120,000 votes here in 1992.

In a state where 500,000 to 600,000 people have voted in recent presidential election years, their numbers can be decisive.

They move in and out of elections -- often shunning primaries and then showing up for general elections -- in a state that enjoys a large and growing affluent class making good on a surging economy.

The state has not only regained all the jobs lost in the recession of the late-1980s, it has increased employment by 20 percent. There are 800 small software companies here that did not exist a decade ago. The construction of new homes is again booming in the southern tier.

Last year, the state ranked eighth in the nation in per capita income. Its people are among the nation's healthiest.

And it is this relative state of comfort that may make it hard for Bob Dole -- who trails Bill Clinton in this traditionally Republican state -- to make the case for change and cause problems for Republicans in statewide elections.

Ovide Lamontagne, Shaheen's Republican opponent, has a hard core of support on the right, which, by itself, makes him a formidable contender. Yet, this conservative band of voters generally does not like Bob Dole -- he has twice been rejected as presidential material here -- and moderate Republicans are not inspired by him.

More strategic than any coattail effect Clinton may have for Democratics here, analysts say, is whether an uninspired GOP core will vote in large numbers in state races.

Ron Jacques, Blanchette's stepfather, said that much of the talk in his shop, from people in both parties, is about Shaheen.

"I hear a lot about Shaheen," Jacques said. "Whether they plan to vote for her or not, they all think she has a chance."

It seems everyone believes that the three-term state senator stands a good chance of becoming New Hampshire's first woman governor.

A WMUR-UNH poll conducted just after the primary showed Shaheen with a 46-38 percent lead over Lamontagne. Interestingly, it showed that 27 percent of Republicans polled would vote for her, that she holds a 53-28 percent lead among voters who called themselves centrist, and that she leads 50-31 percent among women.

Many of those women may be Republicans -- including such influential leaders as former state Sen. Susan McLane and Rhona Charbonneau, former state GOP head -- who have given up on the party. National women's groups have come to Shaheen's aid and the Clinton White House is making a strong effort for the Democrats in all four major races here.

"I think the women's vote is going to be a huge factor," said Chris Gallagher, a Concord lawyer and Democratic activist.

Shaheen's abortion rights stance and focus on issues such as health care, day care and education all appeal to female voters.

Republicans such as Lamontagne, Sen. Bob Smith, congressional nominee John E. Sununu and Rep. Charles Bass may need to find a campaign message that moves them closer to the political middle.

For Democrats such as Shaheen, congressional nominees Joe Keefe and Deborah Arnie Arnesen, and Senate hopeful Dick Swett, it will mean trying to defend the moderate turf they positioned themselves to take during the primary season.

Control of the middle is crucial because the state's center has moved further from the far right, said Republican strategist Tom Rath.

"Ronald Reagan moved the center to the right, but today a moderate New Hampshire politician is someone like Judd Gregg," Rath said of the state's junior senator. "He is fiscally very conservative, as is his view on several social issues, but not all of them."

Lamontagne, who opposes abortion and has supported school prayer and the teaching of creationism in public schools, will have a hard time moving to the middle, said Gallagher, the Democratic analyst.

"After all, he is a product of the Union Leader," Gallagher said of the conservative statewide daily newspaper. "The people in the center are fiscal conservatives and social moderates. What they are expressing is a desire for the proper balance."

And as candidates from both sides look for that political balance-point, the middle is getting crowded -- a new situation for New Hampshire, where the right has ruled.

"We have in Shaheen someone who has not placed herself in the middle -- she has been there for years," Gallagher said.

Rath, as the Republican opposition will do, questions Shaheen's sincerity in avoiding the third rail of New Hampshire politics, advocacy of a general sales or income tax.

"I think what you will see is a tremendous distinction between what her position actually is and what her purported position is," said Rath, who added that in 1990 Shaheen predicted the state would need such a tax.

Yet, while Rath insists taxes will again be the hub of this year's political wheel, there are indications that that mercurial middle may be looking for a broader spectrum of issues.

Scores of moderate Republicans -- including elected officials -- unhappy with their party's position on abortion and other social issues are campaigning for Shaheen. Even some of her opponents characterize her as middle-of-the-road.

"She's a moderate. No question about it,"said Gary Matteson, a farmer and businessman who served as US. Rep. Bill Zeliff's campaign chairman in the town of Epsom.

He said that on election night, he heard from Zeliff people after their moderate candidate lost to Lamontagne that they were considering a switch to Shaheen.

"I've heard that a lot," Sydna Zeliff, the vanquished congressman's wife, said just hours before her husband hugged Lamontagne and issued a call for Republicans to unite behind him to defeat Shaheen.

Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.
Abstract (Document Summary)


Kristen Blanchette is a 23-year-old barber with an independent political streak, a moderate who commonly splits her votes between Republicans and Democrats.

Their ranks include independents, who make up about a third of the registered electorate, moderate Republicans, conservative Democrats and a group of disenfranchised, activist Republican women.

Ovide Lamontagne, [Jeanne] Shaheen's Republican opponent, has a hard core of support on the right, which, by itself, makes him a formidable contender. Yet, this conservative band of voters generally does not like Bob Dole -- he has twice been rejected as presidential material here -- and moderate Republicans are not inspired by him.

Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.
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