The Incumbent: Democrat Jeanne Shaheen
Senator Shaheen first won election in 2008 with a 6.5 point win over Republican John E. Sununu after having lost to him by four points six years earlier. She had previously served 3 two-year terms as the Governor of New Hampshire amd had worked to build a moderate image in a purple state. In 2008, Shaheen was no doubt helped by Barack Obama’s double-digit compared to the single-digit races seen in 2004 and 2000.
Shaheen, like every full-term Senate Democrat running for re-election in 2014, voted for Obamacare. The disastrous roll-out and subsequent executive delays and alterations to the law has made the issue a major force for the first time since the 2010 elections. Shaheen has since tried to piggyback on some provisions to alter the law, but the reality remains that she voted for the bill that was proposed as something that had to be passed before anyone found out what was in it. She is typically liberal on most other issues, Obamacare would like be the focus of a campaign against her.
The Republican Challengers
As of February, 2014, most eyes are on former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown, who has played duck, duck, goose with the media and activists over a possible candidacy. Brown surprised the nation by winning Ted Kennedy’s open seat by promising to vote against Obamacare. In 2012, when the issue was less of a factor, he lost a close single-digit election. Brown is probably the prototypical candidate for New Hampshire Republicans. Though no longer a tea party favorite, conservatives would likely welcome putting Shaheen in a tough race and needing a lot of outside help, money, and resources. The stretched-thin Democrats already have tons of ground to cover in 2014 and New Hampshire is a state they would rather not have to waste time in.
If Brown doesn’t run, things get a little rougher as most other big names in the state have so far declined to run. Bob Smith was twice elected to the US Senate in New Hampshire in 1990 and 1996. In 1999, he tried to run for President first as a Republican, then as a third-party candidate, and finally as an independent before dropping the idea altogether, endorsing Bush, and returning to the GOP. In 2002, he was dumped in the GOP primary by Sununu. After that defeat, he bailed to Florida where he would twice briefly run for the Senate in both 2004 and 2010. Maybe it’s just a case of obsessive-compulsive candidacy syndrome, but Smith returned to New Hampshire and announced for the US Senate once again in 2014. So, there is that.
A trio of long-shot candidates round out the field early on. Moderate mid-1990’s state senator Jim Rubens is in the race and mostly self-financing early on, along with conservative activist Karen Testerman. Testerman could potentially be an interesting candidate as she would come from a more conservative and aggressive wing of the party. She has raised the most money from individuals so far, but the figure was still just $26,000 through the end of last year.
Early polls have shown Shaheen in the mid-to-low 40% range, even failing to hit the 50% benchmark against mostly unknown candidates. Four polls in January, 2014 showed Scott Brown improving his standing and either tying (44-44%) or closely trailing (46-43%) Shaheen. Brown has proven to be a formidable candidate and would undoubtedly command a lot of attention – and cash – should he jump in the race. Brown is probably the Democrat’s worst-case scenario so far and with him in, it’s a clear toss-up.
Outside of Brown running, Shaheen is the clear favorite. The same problem that Brown financially poses to Democrats is one that the other Republicans could burden the GOP with. What resources would the GOP be willing to spend to try to build a candidate from scratch, especially when there are so many other races the GOP feels they have a better chance to win? Candidate-abandonment could be a serious problem, and a candidate without significant grassroots support or the ability to self-finance could potentially be left behind when there are so many other high-priority races across the country.