MANCHESTER, N.H. – The stereotypical New Hampshire Republican was a ruggedly self-sufficient type fixated on limiting taxes. The stereotypical Democrat was a mill worker, often just as contrarian when it came to politics.
The fates of candidates who were coursing around New Hampshire Monday in a final bout of campaigning will be decided by a far different set of voters, in both parties. Increasingly, New Hampshire voters are suburbanites, particularly in the long stretches of the state’s southern tier, where housing developments now form unbroken furrows north from the Massachusetts border.
Those changes in the state’s population – and in its political leanings – have made New Hampshire less distinctive than it once was, more in tune with the concerns of the rest of the country. It has also made the electorate more willing to embrace the insurgent Democratic candidacy of Sen. Bernie Sanders and, potentially, that of Sen. Marco Rubio, if his debate performance over the weekend hasn’t damaged him among Republican voters.
Pushing the change have been the tidal surges that reshape politics in many places: Older residents, mostly conservative, are dying off; younger and more liberal residents have moved in. The state’s attractions, including a midsection plump with lakes, have lured migrants who have brought moderating political views with them.
New Hampshire remains overwhelmingly white; African American or Latino residents are rare attendees at political events. But the white population is different than it was, demographers and political analysts say. Only 45% of New Hampshire residents were born here, a lower percentage than in all but five states.
“This population has a much broader range of experience,” said Kenneth M. Johnson, senior demographer at the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire. “It’s not a parochial state.”
Sanders has benefitted this year because many of the new voters share his views and many are very aware of him: One of the growing Democratic areas, the Connecticut River Valley on the state’s western edge, abuts Vermont, the state he represents, and a significant share of the residents work there. His self-described revolutionary campaign is well positioned to accomplish what no other Democratic challenger here has in decades: a victory.
Sanders’ strength among moderate, working-class Democrats-the ideological descendants of the mill workers–robs Clinton of a group she benefited from when she defeated then-Sen. Barack Obama here in 2008. Her husband, Bill Clinton, commanded those voters in his 1992 second-place finish, during which he dubbed himself the “comeback kid.”
“Sanders has advantages, not just geographically and ideologically,” said Dante Scala, a University of New Hampshire political scientist. “Hillary Clinton, whose husband was the comeback kid because of those white working class voters – Clinton may lose them and lose them handily to the most progressive senator in America, which would be remarkable.”
The demographic churn hurts Clinton as well. About 30% of New Hampshire voters either weren’t old enough to vote in 2008 or didn’t live in New Hampshire then, which means 30% of the voters have no fond recollection of her victory here.
To escape without a horrible thumping, Clinton is banking on the support of suburban mothers and older women, particularly in the populous south, where she has spent most of her time campaigning. It is those women who rescued Clinton in 2008.
A focus of her argument to many women has been gun control. In debates and at events, Clinton has criticized Sanders extensively for his votes to benefit gun owners and gun sellers. Mailers attesting to his position have fluttered through the southern reaches of New Hampshire, and Clinton has campaigned there with former congresswoman and gun control advocate Gabrielle Giffords, who was grievously wounded in an attempted assassination in 2011.
Whether there are enough women out there to turn things around for her is questionable.
“Right now, I don’t think there are enough of them that she could switch to win it,” said UNH pollster Andrew Smith. “But she could get this down to single digits.”
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