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Thursday, May 29, 2014

When disenchantment cascades down the ballot

Telegraph Editorial

When voters went to the polls in November 2010, they were disillusioned – angry, even – with the first two years of President Barack Obama’s presidency.

The president, a Democrat, cost his party seats up and down the ballot. ...

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When voters went to the polls in November 2010, they were disillusioned – angry, even – with the first two years of President Barack Obama’s presidency.

The president, a Democrat, cost his party seats up and down the ballot.

In New Hampshire, Republicans regained control of the House and Senate, although they returned Democrat John Lynch to the governor’s office.

The problem was, some of the more extreme members of the GOP – largely in the tea party wing, who had campaigned on a message of dismantling state government – believed their own bluster and operated under the false assumption that their election was a direct result of the messages on which they campaigned.

When Republicans in the House were required to confront a sizable budget shortfall that was largely the making of their Democratic predecessors, they targeted the state’s poor, elderly and most vulnerable. They made cuts to mental health services, taxed hospitals and reduced funding to higher education.

Their hands were tied to a certain extent – when you have to make spending cuts, you kind of have to cut where the spending is – but there was a feeling that they went too far and failed to give enough consideration to the human toll the cuts would take. There was an ugliness to the way business was conducted in the Statehouse, but Republicans had such an overwhelming majority that they were able to silence most dissent and steamroll opposition.

The argument from House leadership was, “this is what voters elected us to do.”

In other words, House leaders bought into their own bullsnot. They erroneously believed they were elected for the beliefs they held when, in most cases, they were swept into office as a result of the Obama backlash that cascaded so far down the ballot that it reached even the state House and Senate races.

Tea party groups are again hoping that widespread disillusionment with the Obama administration will cascade far enough down the ballot to allow them to regain control of the House and the Senate.

They’re banking on that same Obama backlash to catapult their candidates to victory in a variety of races up and down the ballot.

There’s even talk of restoring former House Speaker Bill O’Brien of Mont Vernon – a darling of the tea party – to the speaker’s chair if Republicans take back the House.

Tea party groups have also targeted some Republican state senators who had the temerity to work with those on the other side of the aisle to win passage of Medicaid expansion and other programs that don’t benefit the well off.

We are well aware – and voters should be, too – that Republicans have a long history of governing well in the Granite State. The biennium of 2011-12 stands as a stark exception to that history, and it was no accident that voters, when given a chance to make a change, did so in numbers that exceeded even the wildest hopes of the most partisan Democrat.

Voters who go to the polls in the coming months may again feel compelled to vote against the party of Obama, as they did in 2010.

There is an entire class of political operatives who are banking on exactly that, though returns from primaries held thus far this year in other states have tended to favor the more mainstream GOP candidates. Established Republicans in Texas, North Carolina, West Virginia and Kentucky have held off challenges from their right flanks.

It may be that voters in those states have learned one of the big lessons of 2010, which is that voting against a thing does not always yield a more satisfying result. That’s especially true down near the bottom of the ballot, where the law of unintended consequences tends to be magnified.

It remains to be seen if that lesson has taken hold in the Granite State.