In a recent post, I wrote that about 90 of the 400 Representatives currently in the State House are “politically underwater” – that is, they represent districts that have a partisan voting performance favoring the other political party, even if marginally so.  Of those 90, 68 of them are Democrats in Republican-performing House districts, and 22 of them are Republicans in Democratic-performing districts.  This is obviously generally not good news for Democrats, who will playing almost exclusively defense in New Hampshire (and in most places) in 2010. 

In this post, we’ll focus on the 22 Republican House members who are currently underwater.  To be a Republican in a Democratic-leaning district is rather remarkable, after the last four years.  The Republican brand has been savaged over the last two election cycles, and virtually any Republican who could lose, has lost, since 2006.  So, who are these 22 Reps, where do they serve, and is there anything we can learn about 2010 politics from this unusual list?

First, one caveat:  A lot of these House members may not run again – Roughly a third of incumbents choose not to seek relection in a typical election cycle, and as of Sunday, June 6th, only six of these 22 had made a public decision (four deciding to run again, and two deciding not to run again).  Some of the characteristics of candidates able to survive being underwater – the name ID that comes with longevity, a non-partisan image unique to the individual – do not transfer to another candidate should he or she decide against seeking relection.

Onto the list!

Only four Republican House members come from districts that are D+2 or more Democratic (generally speaking, districts between R+3 and D+3 are seen as competitive districts).   To provide context, Democrats have 27 such seats – which our next post will detail.  Those four Republicans include:

  • Rep. Lynne Blankenbeker, of Concord (Mer 11) is the most underwater House member in the entire 400-member House – her district is D+10!  As you may recall, Blankenbeker won an unusually high-profile special election to replace Employment Security Commissioner Tara Reardon, who resigned mid-term after being appointed by Governor Lynch.  Blankenbeker ran against former Rep. Jim MacKay, a liberal former Republican who became a Democrat soon before this election.  MacKay and Blankenbeker have both filed for relection in 2010, but as impressive as her victory was in the special, it would be difficult to project Blankenbeker surviving a general election this year.
  • Rep. Jane Johnson, of Swanzey (Cheshire 6) easily wins the prize for Republican House member to win in the most Democratic district in 2008’s general election (D+8).  Johnson narrowly won the fourth and final seat in this district in 2008 (2773 votes to 2750 votes), and she narrowly won the final seat of this four-member district in 2006.  In 2004, the two parties split these four seats (Johnson was not a candidate in 2004).  Johnson’s a retired teacher, and does not appear to be a classic RINO (Republican In Name Only):  She has endorsed Jennifer Horn, rather than Charlie Bass, in her congressional district’s primary.  In addition, in a district with three Democrats, her voting record appears fairly mainstream within the Republican caucus:  There were 223 roll call votes in the 2010 regular House session which just ended.  Of those, there were 193 times where both Johnson was present and where at least one of her district colleagues was also present, and where all the district’s Democrats who were present voted the same way.  In those 193 roll call votes, Johnson voted with her Democratic district colleagues only 24% of the time (46 out of 193 roll call votes), and virtually all of those votes were broadly supported across the House.  Despite all this, she has won in as difficult an environment as anybody in the entire House.  She has not yet (as of the weekend) filed for reelection, but if she does, her candidacy is among the most interesting in the state this fall.  (If she does not seek reelection this fall, the Democrats will likely take this seat.)
  • Rep. Jack Laurent, of Westmoreland (Cheshire 1) is the third-most underwater Republican in the House, representing a D+5 district.  Laurent appears to be running for reelection this fall (the Secretary of State’s website may have placed him erroneously in a different district).  He is finishing his 5th House term (non-consecutive; he narrowly lost in both 2004 and 2006), and he won by a decent margin (1,027 to 876) in 2008.  As a former Postal Service employee, former small businessman,  active local community member (Lions Club, Zoning Board, etc.), Laurent appears to be a classic example of somebody who transcends  party in all but the worst electoral years for Republicans, and who likely would win reelection in a relatively favorable year, such as 2010.
  • Rep. Joe Osgood, of Claremont (Sullivan 4) is the only other Republican House member in a district (it’s D+4) which is more Democratic-leaning than D+2.  While Claremont is a generally reliable Democratic community, there is history throughout the decade of highly-competitive House races for the final seat of this five-seat district.  In 2008, Osgood narrowly won.  He is a small businessman in Claremont, is vocal in local politics, as well, and in 2010’s political climate, will be competitive, should he seek reelection.  Sen. Bob Odell, who represents Claremont, seeking reelection would also strengthen Osgood’s efforts in 2010.

There are 18 other Republicans who are underwater, but they are all in districts that are very marginally Democratic-performing:

  • 10 House Republicans are in D+2 districts:
    • Reps. Doug & Stella Scamman, of Stratham (Rockingham 13), both of whom recently indicated they will not seek reelection in 2010.  If you’ve read this far down my post, you probably know that the Scamman brand transcends partisan labels.  Their decision not to run in 2010 makes Republicans’ job in this district much more difficult.
    • Rep. Matt Quandt, of Exeter (Rockingham 13) is in a strong position for reelection, as the Quandt brand is also strong in this district.  His father, former Rep. Lee Quandt, is running in 2010, and will likely win. 
    • Reps. Karen Umberger & Gene Chandler, of Kearsarge & Bartlett, respectively (Carroll 1) represent a district based in Conway.  It’s a four-member district, where the two Democrats are likely safe…but the two Republicans listed here probably are, too.  Umberger, who has already filed for reelection, was the lowest winner in 2008, but in a competitive district, in a Republican year, she should be very competitive.
    • Rep. Saggy Tahir, of Manchester (Hillsborough 9) is a long-serving Republican in a district where he has been able to survive in the last two cycles, making him likely safe pending unusually strong recruitment by Democrats in this district.
    • Rep. Leo Pepino, of Manchester (Hillsborough 11) is another veteran legislator who has survived at a time when Democrats have crushed Republicans in most Manchester aldermanic and House elections.  He was the top vote getter in 2002 and 2004, lost in the Wave of 2006, and then finished a comfortable 3rd in this three-member district in 2008.  He is probably safe.
    • Rep. Dee Hogan, of Nashua (Hillsborough 25) is much like Tahir and Pepino, above.  Another three-member district, where the top two finished in 2008 were Democrats, but where the Republican finished a comfortable 3rd.  She is, if she runs again, probably safe.
    • Reps. Jen Coffey & Priscilla Lockwood, of Andover & Canterbury, respectively (Merrimack 6) represent what most of these districts, at their core, really are:  split districts.  Coffey, new to the ballot in 2008, did very well, and is well-regarded with the Republican party; Lockwood was the only Republican to survive in this district in 2006, and although she narrowly won in 2008 (4,229 to 4,136 for the last seat in this six-seat district).  Barring unusually strong Democratic recruiting this fall, both should be safe, if they run.
  • Three House Republicans are in D+1 districts:
    • Rep. Andy Peterson, of Peterborough (Hillsborough 3) is the beneficiary of many advantages in 2010, should he run again – incumbency, the strong brand going back decades to his father’s time in state office, and the likely nomination of hometown congressional candidate Charlie Bass.  Peterson will be safe, but despite the low PVI figure, Republicans will likely struggle to gain a second seat in this four-person district.  This is a part of the state that may be moving in the Democratic direction faster than the PVI system is picking it up.
    • Rep. Carl Seidel, of Nashua (Hillsborough 20) is in a very similar position to Dee Hogan, also of Nashua, at least on paper.
    • Rep. Pamela Tucker, of Greenland (Rockingham 17) is in one of the most competitive House districts in the entire state.  It is a single-member district that has gone back-and-forth in recent years.  Tucker narrowly defeated Democratic incumbent Mike Marsh in 2008; Marsh narrowly defeated the Republican in 2006; the Republican narrowly won in 2004.  Greenland, like many towns around Portsmouth and Durham (think Exeter, Stratham, North Hampton) has slowly moved in a Democratic direction this decade, and will act as a bellwether set of towns in 2010.
  • Five House Republicans are in D+0 districts:
    • Reps. Pam Price & Peter Silva, of Nashua (Hillsborough 26) are part of one of the larger districts in the state (10 seats).  It is a bellwether district which is currently 8-2 for Democrats, but it has been much more even in the past.  This district is one to watch to determine whether or not the state Republicans are able to take advantage of a favorable political environment with strong recruiting.  Price and Silva are probably both safe, regardless.
    • Reps. Julie Brown, Walter Groen, and Jim Twombley, of Rochester (Strafford 1) are part of a nine-person district – the city of Rochester – that is almost certainly the best bellwether of how the 2010 elections will go for both parties.  In 2004, the district was 6-3 Republican; in 2006, Brown was the only Republican to win; in 2008, it reverted back towards a more-expected outcome.  If all three incumbents seek reelection, they likely will all win.  Strong recruiting, plus a strong Republican trend, would likely add a few more Republicans to the winner’s circle.

As you can see from this list of 22, most of the Republicans above are probably safe, which makes sense.  After all, if you survived the last two cycles as a Republican, you’ve probably seen the worst of times already, electorally.  A week from now, we’ll have a good idea how many of these (and others) will be running in 2010, and that will allow me to more definitely evaluate these races.  We’ll start getting into the vast list of the dozens of Democrats who are similarly underwater (68 of them) later this week, but in the cyclical nature of state politics, suffice it to say:  what comes up, eventually comes down.