A common phenomenon in politics is for incumbents to retire at the time when their party needs them most.  During times when a party is poised to suffer through a tough year, many of their veteran incumbents decide it is better to walk off the stage than it is to be booted off of it.  Andrew Gelman, a contributing writer on Nate Silver’s popular blog, has written about this at the national level, calling it the “Retirement Paradox”.  The flip side of this paradox is that incumbents who should feel safe retiring, because their party is about to enjoy a wave election, often will stick around – to enjoy being in the majority, to become the chair of their primary committee, or simply because it feels good to be on the winning team.

In 2010, however, to the potential great benefit of New Hampshire Republicans, their State Senators do not seem to be following this pattern…and if State Republicans do a good job of recruiting between now and the filing deadline of June 11th, the long-term benefits could be enormous.

So far in 2010,  three incumbent Republican state senators (out of 10) have announced their retirement: District 19 Sen. Bob Letourneau, of Derry; District 9 Sen. Sheila Roberge, of Bedford; and District 22 Sen. Mike Downing, of Salem.  Notice anything about their home towns?  Derry, Bedford, and Salem are three of the most reliably Republican large communities in the state, which means their respective Senate districts must be pretty Republican-leaning, as well, yes?

Yes.  Very much so, in fact.  I’ve developed a fairly comprehensive statistical approach to measuring the partisan leanings of every precinct in New Hampshire, modeled off of the well-known Cook Partisan Voter Index (PVI), the product of longtime national political analyst Charlie Cook of The Cook Political Report, and of the National Journal.  I’ll describe the what my “NHPVI” entails in the near future, and what it is suggesting about the November elections.  Basically, if a district (in this case, a State Senate district) is considered, say, an “R+2” district, that means that, on average, that district is 2 points more Republican than the statewide average for all statewide races over the last several cycles.  This does not mean that said district is “52%-48% for the Republicans”, though, because the statewide average election for all statewide races in the past several cycles is not 50%-50%…it’s actually about 55%-45% in favor of the Democrats.  This means that an “R+2” State Senate district has been, on average, voting for Democrats by “only” a 53%-47% margin – less Democratic than the state average, but still in a manner that, on average, favors Democrats. 

The key to remember for 2010 is that nobody thinks that Democrats will enjoy the same kind of statewide performance that they have in the last several elections, and it means that Republican could come roaring back this fall.  Why?  If a district is an “R+2” district, meaning it is 2 points more Republican than the statewide candidates’ average performance, and I tell you that Republicans, on average, will get 54% of the vote, then this “R+2” district is suddenly poised to give the Republicans two more points than the new average, or 56% of the vote.  This is why Democrats currently holding seats in Republican-leaning districts (and many are) are likely in trouble this November.

So, to bring this back to the three retiring Republican state senators (so far), here is a ranking of the five Republican-leaning senate districts in the state:

1.  District 19 (Letourneau): R+8

2.  District 9 (Roberge): R+8

3.  District 22 (Downing): R+7

4.  District 14 (Carson):  R+7

5.  District 17 (Barnes):  R+6

That’s right – the three Republicans who have thus far announced their retirements come from the three safest Republican districts in the state, and they are doing it in a year likely to be favorable to their own party.  (As others retire over the next few weeks, we’ll plug them into the list to see how vulnerable their soon-to-be-open seats will this fall.)  The opportunity for Republicans is clear:  It is virtually impossible for Democats to win any of these three seats in 2010, and Republicans would be wise to take advantage of this situation to encourage candidates with significant upside (for legislative leadership, perhaps, or for future higher office) to run this year.  The sales pitch couldn’t be much easier towards a prospective candidate – “if you run, you’ll win” – and in the post-Lynch era likely coming in 2012, the potentially volatile and competitive political environment coming in two years will reward parties that aggressively built their bench.

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