The 2016 Proxy Race Has Begun in New Hampshire

National Journal
May 18, 2015, 2:08 p.m.

Yvonne Dean-Bailey glad-handed with voters at the Nine Lions’ Tav­ern, a small cafe in Deer­field, New Hamp­shire—pop­u­la­tion 4,300—earli­er this month. It was a typ­ic­al cam­paign event in most ways. She was just weeks away from a spe­cial elec­tion to serve in the state House and rep­res­ent Rock­ing­ham County’s 32nd Dis­trict. But the 19-year-old Re­pub­lic­an had a spe­cial as­sist from one of her party’s biggest names.

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry was in town. He worked the crowd, de­livered a speech, and signed a Har­ley-Dav­id­son mo­tor­cycle. Ac­cord­ing to the Con­cord Mon­it­or, he told Dean-Bailey not to “be ashamed” of her age, and that it’d likely be an as­set in the le­gis­lature.

Tues­day, New Hamp­shire voters in Deer­field, North­wood, Not­ting­ham, and Can­dia will de­cide between elect­ing Re­pub­lic­an Dean-Bailey, a stu­dent, and Demo­crat Maur­een Mann, a re­tired pub­lic school teach­er and former state House mem­ber, to serve as one of 400 mem­bers of the state’s House of Rep­res­ent­at­ives. But the race has an­oth­er im­port­ant role: It serves as an early ex­am for each party’s mes­saging as they gear up for the 2016 pres­id­en­tial elec­tion.

“We are be­com­ing an even more con­ten­tious polit­ic­al state, and one of the ways we keep score is through spe­cial elec­tions,” says Tom Rath, a Re­pub­lic­an con­sult­ant in the state.

Po­ten­tial and con­firmed 2016 can­did­ates have been tromp­ing through the 32nd Dis­trict over the last sev­er­al weeks in hopes of not only show­ing sup­port for their party’s can­did­ate, but also ex­hib­it­ing their own ded­ic­a­tion to New Hamp­shire’s unique brand of homespun politick­ing.

“It was great to bring pres­id­en­tial can­did­ates to an area in New Hamp­shire which is of­ten over­looked by pres­id­en­tial cam­paigns be­cause of our prox­im­ity to New Hamp­shire’s lar­ger com­munit­ies,” Dean-Bailey said in an email.

Be­fore she an­nounced her of­fi­cial entry in­to the pres­id­en­tial fray, Carly Fior­ina joined Dean-Bailey at a North­wood Com­munity Cen­ter meet-and-greet. Sen. Marco Ru­bio tweeted his sup­port for her. Former Mary­land Gov. Mar­tin O’Mal­ley phone-banked for Mann last week. Ru­bio had also knocked doors with an­oth­er spe­cial-elec­tion can­did­ate in the state, Den­nis Green, who won his race in April.

The in­jec­tion of 2016 polit­ics in­to state races, though, isn’t just for the be­ne­fit of less­er-known, loc­al politi­cians. For Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­en­tial con­tenders, help­ing out with loc­al races is crit­ic­ally im­port­ant to win­ning the trust of the small-town power brokers they will need to im­press if they want to har­ness grass­roots power and win the crit­ic­al New Hamp­shire primary.

“It al­lows them to get in­volved with the tra­di­tion­al New Hamp­shire style of cam­paign­ing, which is door to door, town to town, and per­son to per­son,” says Ry­an Wil­li­ams, a former Mitt Rom­ney aide who is act­ively work­ing along­side Re­pub­lic­ans in the state to win the spe­cial elec­tion. “It builds good­will for pres­id­en­tial can­did­ates.”

The fact that the race for the Re­pub­lic­an nom­in­a­tion is in deep flux—with roughly 20 can­did­ates in or con­sid­er­ing a run—has been a huge boost for Dean-Bailey. On the Demo­crat­ic side, Mann has won sup­port from O’Mal­ley, but her race has not been cent­ral to Demo­crat­ic con­tender Hil­lary Clin­ton’s state mes­saging.

Rais­ing the stakes for each party is the fact that the 32nd Dis­trict is swing ter­rit­ory. The dis­trict has shif­ted between Demo­crat­ic and Re­pub­lic­an hands sev­er­al times over the last few years. Mann was elec­ted in 2012 only to be de­feated by Re­pub­lic­an Bri­an Dob­son two years later. And after Dob­son left his seat to work for Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Frank Guinta, Mann is look­ing for a new chance to get back to work in her old seat.

The race’s high pro­file has also raised the price tag for the seat. The cam­paign, which most New Hamp­shire in­siders say would typ­ic­ally in­clude a few marches in parades and be a $500 pro­pos­i­tion, is cost­ing each can­did­ate thou­sands. Ac­cord­ing to the most re­cent cam­paign-fin­ance re­ports for the spe­cial elec­tion, Dean-Bailey has raised about $4,000 and Mann has raised just over $9,000.

Out­side groups have also jumped at the chance to mo­bil­ize and per­fect their own turnout op­er­a­tions be­fore try­ing them out on big­ger races. Greg Moore, the state dir­ect­or for Amer­ic­ans for Prosper­ity in New Hamp­shire, says AFP has phone-banked, gone door-to-door, and sent out mail­ers in hopes of drum­ming up turnout for the spe­cial elec­tion. The group tried a phone-bank­ing and door-to-door mod­el in the April 28 spe­cial elec­tion for the 13th dis­trict and claims turnout jumped from the typ­ic­al 6 per­cent to 12 per­cent. For out­side groups, any elec­tion is a chance to col­lect voter in­form­a­tion that’ll come in handy later.

“We can really work on our field pro­gram and de­vel­op best prac­tices,” Moore says. “It’s an op­por­tun­ity to see what kind of lift we can get.”

Of course, a high-pro­file race also at­tracts an­oth­er level of cam­paign shenanigans. Thursday, a prank­ster—a former so­cial-me­dia cam­paign work­er for Mann—sent re­leases to news or­gan­iz­a­tions claim­ing that Dean-Bailey was drop­ping out be­cause she had con­cerns over her course load at school. The former staffer had not worked for Mann for sev­er­al weeks, and Mann sent out a state­ment dis­tan­cing her­self from the in­cid­ent. But the prank is just an­oth­er re­mind­er of how much more seems to be at stake in an elec­tion where ex­perts ex­pect just 1,000 voters to turn out.

If Mann wins, the Demo­crat­ic Party of New Hamp­shire says it would prove voters know that “the Re­pub­lic­an can­did­ate in the Rock­ing­ham-32 spe­cial elec­tion is yet an­oth­er de­votee to the back­ward Koch Broth­ers agenda that would turn back the clock on New Hamp­shire wo­men and drastic­ally cut crit­ic­al eco­nom­ic pri­or­it­ies in­clud­ing high­er edu­ca­tion, main­tain­ing roads and bridges, and caring for the state’s seni­ors and most vul­ner­able cit­izens.”

But if Dean-Bailey wins, Re­pub­lic­ans say, it is a clear in­dic­a­tion that mo­mentum is mov­ing in their dir­ec­tion ahead of the pres­id­en­tial elec­tion.

Of course, there is an­oth­er ex­plan­a­tion for either vic­tory.

“In a va­cu­um, this race looks big­ger than it really is,” says Rath. “It tells you which of these can­did­ates is bet­ter. That is all. It doesn’t tell us much about the Re­pub­lic­an Party.”

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