What I Saw at the Party

If I had a buck for every election postmortem I’ve read in the last ten days, I could pay for my coffee for a month. Some of the columns have been written by Republicans whom I somehow didn’t come across as I worked for NHGOP  this year. The tone of Republicans-lost-because-they’re-too-whatever sounds a lot like the NH Democratic Party’s published response to the recent election of Rep. Gene Chandler (R-Bartlett) as the new House Minority Leader. Both seem to have been prepared in advance and then phoned in.

My own ground-game experience from this campaign gave me a view not available to the armchair quarterbacks. I came late to the party, literally and figuratively, taking the job with NHGOP in early July after most of the Victory team was already in place. For the next four months, I spent seven days a week wearing out the tires on my car as I went to every county to meet voters on their own turf. Many were Republicans, since the obvious low-hanging fruit for the volunteer harvest was going to be among them. I also sought out voters not affiliated with the GOP.

Here’s what I heard:

#1: Discouragement suppressed more votes than any law ever will.

#2: Elections turn on local relationships.

#3: Social issues matter. 

#4: Conservative women rock. 

All I had to do to begin a conversation about the election was to put on some campaign gear. Even a small GOP button on my shirt was enough to draw attention from complete strangers. This was true in every town I visited.

A vendor at the Lancaster Fair (which is definitely worth the drive)  saw my button and asked me quietly, “Do you think we have a chance?” I answered him with a firm Yes. When I told him I was working with NHGOP, he turned his booth over to a co-worker for  few minutes so we could talk. This was a registered Republican with a small business. He wondered if it was worth his while to take the time off work to vote. He was the first of many business owners who were to say to me in the coming weeks,”This guy [Obama] is killing us.” This business owner’s disenchantment with federal policy had led to discouragement that burdened him every single day. I did all I could in ten short minutes to let him know that his vote & opinion mattered and that his business was worth defending. Did this man actually vote? I can only hope so. I asked if I could share his name and his story with the local NHGOP Victory field representative, and he declined, saying he was afraid of being boycotted if he came out for Romney. A sad fear, and he wasn’t the only business owner who shared that with me.

Discouragement kept more voters away from the voting booth, and therefore the GOP column, than did the platform or voter ID or anything else. Those people weren’t reflected in exit polls because they didn’t vote. What could have brought them on board?

Hearing more from people they know and respect, for one thing. Good relationships could have won some seats, not least by encouraging people to get to the polls. In New Hampshire, perhaps more so than in any other swing state, if someone hears about a candidate or issue from a neighbor or friend or acquaintance, the voter will give more credence to the neighbor than to an entire cascade of mailers and ads. No national campaign here will overcome a failure of local connections. Neighbor chatting with neighbor – or, as Gov. Sununu exhorts, “talk, talk, talk” – goes a long way towards muting ads. I met incredible advocates for Republican candidates (as I describe below), especially in the most populous counties, but there was and is room for expansion of the team.

I saw something repeatedly among the grassroots that may have been missed by observers at a distance. Whatever any national or state candidate thinks of social issues, a substantial bloc of the rank-and-file voters I met want them emphasized, not dropped. When these issues came up as people talked to me, I identified myself as a social conservative,  just to be fair. Then I shut up and listened.

Far and away, somewhat to my surprise, the most passionate voters were upset about New Hampshire’s re-definition of marriage. (Interestingly, most of these angry voters told me they’d have no problem with civil unions.) I heard from voters who could not understand why an overwhelmingly Republican House & Senate had such trouble with pro-woman bills as the ones about keeping track of abortion complications and prosecuting people for causing a woman to lose a wanted pregnancy.  I heard from  people perplexed by campaign strategies that were all about jobs to the exclusion of social concerns. Among people who raised these topics with me, perhaps one in five expressed a desire for the GOP to write off social conservatives.

I didn’t tell these voters what to say. They didn’t need anyone to do their thinking for them.

All my travel and listening had a point: building a coalition of women who supported Romney/Ryan and other Republican candidates. Eventually, over seven hundred of us united to work for these good people. Some of our candidates prevailed, and many others didn’t. Still, seven hundred of us found common ground where we might not have seen it before the campaign. Among these amazing women was a longtime Romney supporter facing a serious  illness, who recruited dozens of volunteers for one of the Victory offices. A young woman new to campaign work volunteered to be a county chair for the coalition, and with her enthusiasm built a powerhouse team in her area. Business owners took time off to go door-to-door. Mothers of small children traded babysitting time with each other to get a turn at the phones.  I, a pro-life social conservative (have you heard?), went door-to-door with a pro-choice woman whose husband’s business is being eaten up by federal regulations. (And we had fun, too.)

From the 30,000-foot level, all one can see is the debris left by the numbers on Election Night. Down where I stand, I see new relationships, new officeholders, new activists. All of that energy and talent is very promising. I hope it’s nurtured  and not taken for granted. Such women are the cure for discouragement.

My employment and the campaign now behind me, I have restored the “undeclared” voter registration with which I’m most comfortable.  I look forward to picking up a Republican ballot again soon. Jeanne Shaheen’s term will be up before you know it.

Others will have their own perspectives. I’ll give careful attention to the accounts and conclusions of those who were in the field with me. I’ll take everyone else’s musings with a grain of salt.

 

 

 

To Win a Case, You Have to Argue It First

Predictably, some Republicans declared before 11 p.m. on election night 2012 that the party simply must lay off those nasty divisive social issues. For thirty years, after every serious Republican setback, I’ve heard the same thing. What the complainers refuse to see is that the major GOP candidates DID lay off those issues this year. The Democrats didn’t.

I emerged yesterday from four months’ employment with the New Hampshire Republican State Committee. They took a chance on me, an “undeclared” Republican-leaning voter, and put me to work.  I knew this was not a year to be on the sidelines. I accepted the fact that the message from both the presidential and gubernatorial Republican campaigns was going to be resolutely economic. At no point in my employment was there any confusion about that. The “social issues,” however compelling, were to be downplayed. In New Hampshire, the results are before us. Four days ago, New Hampshire voters chose Democrat Maggie Hassan to be the next governor, spurning Ovide Lamontagne. Democrats now hold a majority in the New Hampshire House. A recount is pending that will likely result in a Senate split right down the middle. [Note: the final tally is a 13-11 GOP majority.] Nationally, the president responsible for the HHS mandate has been re-elected.

Ironically, a Democratic gubernatorial nominee who opposes any regulation of abortion managed to persuade voters that the pro-life Republican nominee was too “extreme,” while the Republican declined to address that as he kept concentrating on jobs and the economy.

There’s a case to be made that Hassan is the one who is dangerously extreme: opposed to parental involvement in an adolescent girl’s decision to abort; in favor of unrestricted abortion at any stage of pregnancy; opposed to gathering morbidity and mortality information on post-abortive women. There’s also a case to be made, locally as well as nationally, for keeping contraception a private choice without compelling other people to pay for it. Extremism reposes in the Obamacare policy that calls contraception “preventive care.”

But first, a candidate has to want to make the case, and then learn to do so effectively to persuade uncommitted voters, just as pro-life voters need to make the case neighbor-to-neighbor. Dismissing these matters as irrelevant “distractions” leads to results like Tuesday’s. We apparently have to learn this anew every few years.

Someone remarked to me the other day that Hassan won because she came across during the campaign as another John Lynch: inoffensive, likable, unthreatening. Let’s see how likable she is when the new Democratic majority in Concord tries to repeal parental notification, which I believe they will do as early as possible next year. The Republicans have yet to choose a minority leader (Speaker O’Brien, while re-elected to his House seat, doesn’t want the job), who will decide if and how a repeal effort should be handled. Not as a distraction, I trust.

Putting Blog on Hiatus

After the recent U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on the president’s “Affordable” Care Act, it’s clear to me that  there is special urgency to effective political action over the next few months. I thank God I live in a country and a culture where peaceful activism can still make a difference. I am taking a few months off from Leaven for the Loaf and from my work in Concord so I can devote full time to campaign work leading up to November’s elections.

Pro-life ministry is essential in all spheres at all times, as I’ve learned over and over again. God bless all of those whose work is much more direct and effective than mine. Keep it up. I ask that you keep me in your prayers as I embark on this particular enterprise. I am leaving some marvelous co-workers as I look ahead to joining a new team.

Much is at stake in the political arena this year, and not just in Washington. If you meet solid candidates in your local races, help them in any way you can. Most New Hampshire elections are run on a shoestring, and a little bit of assistance will go a long way. We saw this year in Concord what a difference a few votes can make.

An idle thought comes to me: who do I want to see in the White House when we March for Life in Washington next January, on the fortieth anniversary of Roe v. Wade? Not a tough call.

I will miss writing, and I’ll be blogging again after Election Day, or sooner if my new team throws me out. I’ll keep up the wholly apolitical Granite State Walker blog, although I doubt I’ll have much time for any hikes about which to post. Thanks for reading, and I look forward to re-connecting with you in a few months.

Exec Council District 2: Michael Tierney Enters the Arena

The New Hampshire Democratic Party released a statement today warning of an “anti-women’s health extremist” who is running for Executive Council. Look up “anti-women’s health extremist” in your Orwellian-English-to-standard-English dictionary, and you’ll find “citizen activist who sees no reason why Planned Parenthood should get tax dollars.” What’s not to like?

Introducing Michael Tierney: husband, father, Contoocook resident, Republican, land-use attorney, and candidate for Executive Council district 2. He can do the math on state spending, and he believes that an Executive Councilor should take seriously the responsibility of scrutinizing state contracts and contractors.

The NHDP doesn’t give a hoot about Tierney’s day job. Their gripe is over his pro bono work as an allied attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund. In that capacity, Tierney has given Planned Parenthood of Northern New England fits. Does he blockade clinic doorways? Does he give fiery speeches threatening hellfire and damnation to all who enter the premises? No, he’s worse: he asks for documentation of PPNNE grants and expenditures, and he doesn’t take no for an answer.

The Executive Council shocked PPNNE by rejecting its Title X contract proposal last year, and the legislature added to PPNNE’s unease by considering a bill to keep state funds away from abortion providers. PP’s New Hampshire PR machine had to go into overdrive, and it squeaked mightily as it cranked out the usual tripe: only 3% of our services are abortion, we don’t use public money for abortion, we help so many people, you’re just antichoice, and so forth. 

Tierney was undeterred. He recognized that a contract going to an abortion provider for other-than-abortion work frees up other funds to use for the abortion part of the enterprise. When the federal government sidestepped the Executive Council and awarded PPNNE a grant, Tierney, representing New Hampshire Right to Life, filed a Freedom of Information Act request for all documentation relating to the grant. This began a long and grinding discovery process that is still ongoing, and it has turned up matters that raise other questions about PPNNE operations. This has earned Tierney the title of “extremist” from the NHDP, and I’m sure worse is coming as the Executive Council campaign moves forward.

Tierney understands the need for accountability for the use of taxpayer dollars, he is politely tenacious, and he doesn’t fold when someone calls him names. In those respects, he’d be a worthy successor to retiring Councilor Dan St. Hilaire (R-Concord), who unexpectedly started all the fuss last year by being the third and deciding vote to reject PPNNE’s Title X proposal. (Ten other Title X contracts went through without a hitch that day – just not the one with northern New England’s chief abortion provider.)

This is a redistricting year, and the New Hampshire House and Senate have agreed on new electoral maps, after the customary decennial wrangling. The Executive Council’s District 2 is now an amazing piece of work. With the addition of Keene and Durham, the seat now seems to be gift-wrapped for presentation to the Democratic nominee. What’s more, the district has been gerrymandered to stretch from Durham in the east to Hinsdale in the far southwestern corner of the state, with towns from six of the state’s ten counties. Campaigning will be a challenge for all the candidates, and winning the district will be a tall order for a Republican.

Thanks to Michael Tierney, PPNNE’s political protectors cannot take district 2 for granted. There’s going to be a real race here. 

Friday Assortment: Run for Office, Wait for Vetoes, Watch the Court

If you want to run for state office as a member of a political party later this year, you have until 5 p.m. tomorrow (Friday, June 15) to file. The primary election will be held on September 11, and the general election follows on November 6. What’s your pleasure? State rep, maybe? Two bucks and a trip to your town clerk to fill out the paperwork will make you a candidate. Prospective delegates to the GOP state convention register with town clerks as well, with no filing fee. Other offices – state senate, executive council, county offices, governor, Congress – must file at the Secretary of State’s office in Concord.

A special note to my Republican readers: running to be a delegate to the state convention costs you nothing, and winning a seat requires nothing more than a couple of meetings. If the party platform matters to you, this is a job for you.

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Governor Lynch has begun plowing through the pile of bills on his desk, and he has found his veto pen. An education tax credit bill is the latest victim. The fetal homicide bill still awaits action. The House and Senate are scheduled to meet on June 27 to deal with vetoed bills.

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The current U.S. Supreme Court session will end in a couple of weeks, with a ruling expected on some aspects of the president’s health care plan. The unlikeliest outcome is that the plan will be struck down altogether. If that happy event comes to pass, the HHS mandate will be dead. The Court could find the plan constitutional in all aspects (perish the thought), or constitutional in part. In either of those situations, the lawsuits against the mandate will continue, challenging its inherent religious liberty violation.

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A “Fortnight for Religious Freedom” begins next Thursday, June 21, and ends on Independence Day, July 4. Organized by Catholics who have been moved to action by the mandate, the two-week observance is for anyone who’s ready to pray, study, and act to defend our First Amendment heritage.