Kaufman: Will New Hampshire live free or die?

The New Hampshire U.S. Senate race is one of maybe three others — Alabama, Michigan and Minnesota — the GOP can flip. 

Concord, New Hampshire.

The presidential race in New Hampshire seemingly always ends up close. Indeed, the Granite State only has been decided by more than 50,000 votes once since 1988.

Mitt Romney lost here by 40,000 votes to Barack Obama in 2012, and President Donald Trump fell short by fewer than 3,000 four years ago.

Though well under a million votes will ultimately be cast, New Hampshire theoretically retains outsized influence due to its “first-in-the-nation” primary status; with the 2020 election possibly being razor thin, the land of Live Free or Die’s four electoral votes could matter. No other New England state is in play.

Though a GOP presidential candidate hasn’t taken New Hampshire in 20 years — when George W. Bush edged Al Gore — nearly half of all voters are independent. Joe Biden currently maintains a small lead.

I first spoke to a friend with whom I worked summer camps nearly two decades ago. He moved to New Hampshire in 2015. I lost touch with him a few years ago but recalled him as moderate or apolitical. No more.

Like his wife and parents, he works in education and “fell in love” with Bernie Sanders. He voted for the radical in the 2016 and 2020 primaries. He says he is not a socialist but considers himself “very progressive.”

“I held my nose and voted for Hillary because I detest Trump, but she wasn’t a good candidate and neither is Biden,” he said. “We need someone to overhaul the entire system. I’m not for the cancel culture junk I see in schools, because we have bigger issues. There are still people without health insurance, and the rich are still getting richer. My wife and I have four degrees combined. Why can we only afford a small apartment?”

He then told me his (fairly high) salary and that he pays “nothing, why should I?” for health insurance.

Since I couldn’t get to the northeast in person, I recruited a friend who made the trip a few weeks ago.

Jaffrey, New Hampshire.

In Jaffrey, along the state’s southwestern portion, a former Marine and retired postal worker offered some thoughts.

“Look, when the ship is going down, you don’t change captains, even if he’s the one who got you there,” he claimed. “We need to give Trump a chance to fix things, just like he did with the economy and immigration. I voted for Obama’s second term for the same reasons. All you hear from the media is how dishonest and flawed Trump is. I don’t like some of the things he says or does. I don’t like the Twitter or the interviews or the rhetoric, but he keeps his promises.”

Up in Lebanon, near the Vermont border, we spoke to a woman in her 40s who works in childcare.

“I didn’t vote for Trump last time. My husband did, and I think we both will this time,” she explained. “Trump has a chance at winning here, though it will be close. No one is talking about Biden. Most of my friends will vote for Trump, but it is probably the opposite at work.”

One dissenting voice was a retired grandmother and mother, who voted Trump in 2016.

“With COVID and rioting taking place, I fear what’s to come,” she said. “I feel COVID wasn’t handled right at the beginning, and to outright call Dr. Fauci a liar is uncalled for. President Trump is leading us into panic and turmoil. He doesn’t show respect for others, sends nasty tweets, lies, and then tries to cover it or talk around it. I expect our leaders to take action in a political way but not disrespect people. A leader should set the example of good manners and kindness. We are divided as a country, when we should be able to work together.”

Lebanon, New Hampshire.

The New Hampshire U.S. Senate race is one of maybe three others — AlabamaMichigan and Minnesota — the GOP can flip.

Outsider Bryant “Corky” Messner, a West Point graduate, takes on former governor and incumbent Jeanne Shaheen, who’s been in politics nearly 50 years.

Messner was a U.S. Army Ranger, who earned a law degree and ran a firm after his military service. He’s putting millions of his own dollars into the race.

“Messner is a veteran and believes in law and order,” the lady from Lebanon said. “He’s a businessman with good endorsements. In the long run, I think he’s better for our state and my family. I’ll vote for him, and know my Army veteran husband will as well.”

Polls, however, taken several weeks ago show Shaheen with a comfortable cushion. Messner recently condemned Shaheen’s views on Amy Coney Barrett, with an editorial in the state’s largest newspaper.

Despite a chaotic year and early voting rules in New Hampshire that don’t allow ballots to be counted until Election Day, let’s at least hope for quick and accurate results Nov. 3.