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New Hampshire’s past is not prolouge

NORTH CONWAY, N.H. — Nobody wants to run for the Senate as a Republican in this state.

Well, not exactly nobody. But nobody who isn’t,
for want of a better term,
a relative nobody.

That astonishing phenomenon is rendered
all the more staggering
when you consider that the incumbent, Maggie Hassan, is regarded as the most vulnerable Democrat in a Senate where, more than usual, every seat counts. If the Republicans beat Sen. Hassan and a series of other dominos fall in the direction the polls suggest they will, the GOP will take possession of the Senate, one-party
rule in Washington will
end, Joe Biden’s nominees (including one who might
be for the Supreme Court) will be endangered, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky
will be Senate majority leader, the chairs of every committee will change and the rhythm of the Capitol will be altered substantially.

In short, a big deal. But no big figure wants to take the big step to run for the office.

Gov. Chris Sununu,
the most popular New Hampshire governor in years and one of the most popular governors of either party nationwide, this month stepped back from
a Senate race. Less than
a day later, former Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who has a residue of goodwill from Republicans and Democrats alike, did the same. So did former Sen. Scott Brown
of Massachusetts, now living in New Hampshire.

“We are seeing a bit
of a vacuum on the Republican side,” said
Dante Scala, a University
of New Hampshire political scientist. “Once you get past Chris Sununu it’s difficult to find people who don’t look

at a statewide race as a big leap. That is the case even though Hassan’s prospects are tied to Biden, and right now the president is a heavy anchor to her. Ultimately the vacuum will be filled, and there is a decent chance of getting a B-level candidate, and a B-level candidate

can win this race.” This Republican

predicament is all the more astounding in view of the historical profile of this state. While the Democrats have taken New Hampshire in the past five presidential elections, the tint of this state’s politics is distinctly red, and the Republican bench has always been deep. In the case of New Hampshire, the past is not prologue.

For the 122 years between 1875 and 1997 — roughly the period between the invention of the telephone and the broad distribution of the cellphone, or the

time between the bearded Ulysses Grant and the clean-shaven Bill Clinton — the Republican domination of New Hampshire was so impenetrable that voters in this state sent only three Democrats to the governor’s office on the second floor

of the state Capitol.
For the 156 years between

1855 and 2011 — roughly the time between the military’s creation of a Camel Corps and its use of armed drones, or between the early planning for

the first Black university
to the administration
of Barack Obama — 33
of New Hampshire’s 37 senators were Republicans, a phenomenon even more dramatic when you consider that one of those GOP senators served for 27

years and another for 24. In an astonishing two- decade period beginning in 1970, the office of state attorney general was passed down, kind of like a track and field passing of the baton, among a remarkable group of lawyers. First came Warren B. Rudman, who later became a two- term senator and attached his name to the signature deficit-reduction mechanism of the 1980s. Then came David H. Souter, who eventually sat on the Supreme Court. Next was Thomas D. Rath, who

helped run New Hampshire primary campaigns for, among others, Howard Baker, Lamar Alexander, Bob Dole, George W. Bush, Mitt Romney and John Kasich, and who remained a powerful lawyer in the state capital of Concord. Finally was Steve Merrill, who became a two-term governor.

With a Republican
lineage like that — with a tradition of conservatism that retains trace elements today — the failure of top GOP figures to take a race insiders believe they would win with ease suggests the presence of a broader factor.

Like everything else in American politics, the partial answer comes down to two words: Donald Trump.

Trump loyalists have taken an increasingly prominent place in the formal organization of the New Hampshire GOP. But only a third of New Hampshire residents overall have a favorable opinion of Mr. Trump, according to the latest Granite State Poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center. Though he tops the polls among Republicans for the 2024 nomination, he does not rate highest in net favorability among potential primary voters. Florida’s Gov. Ron DeSantis takes first place with 62%, with Mr. Trump at 54%.

The disconnect between traditional Republicans and Trump Republicans,
a feature of internal GOP struggles in many states, has significant implications in several important political contests. In Wyoming, that struggle

will determine the fate of Rep. Liz Cheney, whose apostasies include voting
to impeach Mr. Trump
and her presence as vice chair of the congressional committee examining the origins of the January Capitol insurrection. It is a factor in races to determine successors to several retiring Republicans, including Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Roy Blunt of Missouri, along with Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois.

“You have Trump people here who control the party, and regular conservative Republicans don’t want to try to appeal to them,” said Andrew Smith, director of the UNH Survey Center. “The Trumpistas may not be chasing people away but a lot of people don’t want
to put up with them. There have been ugly incidents.”

The result is that the Republicans are in the unhappy position of trying to persuade one or more
of their congressional candidates to take on the Senate race, or to nominate State Senate President Chuck Morse or Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut, or to consider retired Army Gen. Don Bolduc, who was passed over by Mr. Trump for an endorsement when he
aimed for the GOP Senate nomination in 2020 but who campaigned here recently.

“The Trump element in
the party doesn’t have the status or capability to win the general election,” said Mr. Rath, a onetime member of the Republican National Committee. “Many people don’t want to have anything to do with them. The party now is full of true believers but there aren’t enough of them to win an election.”

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