On Nov. 9, Democrat Maggie Hassan achieved victory in the New Hampshire Senate race, unseating Republican incumbent Kelly Ayotte. She won in the extremely close race by a mere 743 votes. Prior to Ayotte actually conceding the race, Hassan declared her victory early Wednesday morning to a group of people in front of the New Hampshire State House: “It’s clear that we have maintained the lead in and have won this race. I am proud to stand here as the next U.S. senator from New Hampshire.”
Many believed that Ayotte would request a recount because the race was so close, but instead she conceded to Hassan on Wednesday evening: “It has been a tremendous privilege to serve New Hampshire in the Senate. This is a critical time for New Hampshire and our country, and now more than ever, we need to work together to address our challenges. The voters have spoken and now it’s time all of us to come together to get things done for the people of the greatest state in this nation and for the greatest country on earth,” she stated in her concession speech.
During the race, each campaign had very different views of policies and issues. Ayotte and Hassan differed on what their first priority would be in office when it comes to bills. Hassan stated that she would immediately push for emergency federal funding to fight New Hampshire's opioid crisis. Meanwhile, Ayotte said that she would make improving veterans health care a priority. The candidates also differ on foreign policy, especially the Iran nuclear deal. While Ayotte opposes the deal and wants a reauthorization of sanctions, Hassan supports the deal and claims it is the best way to deter Iran obtaining nuclear power. Gun policy splits the two women once more. Hassan believes, in line with her party, that background checks should be expanded to include online and gun show purchases. Ayotte is against the expansion of background checks. Instead, she supports increasing mental health records given to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. In terms of health care, Hassan is in favor of federal funding for Planned Parenthood, while Ayotte had voted to block funding for the organization.
Hassan and Ayotte are not complete opposites, as they both attempted to find bipartisan stances on issues to gain independent votes. In terms of foreign policy, both oppose President Obama’s plan to close Guantanamo Bay. They also support additional airstrikes in Syria, but Hassan does not believe that the U.S. should launch a ground attack. Both women support different variations of bills meant to close the gender wage gap. Hassan supports a Democratic bill, the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would enable female workers to sue for salary discrimination. Ayotte supports a bill of her own called the Gender Advancement in Pay Act, which does not allow employers to retaliate if workers discuss their salaries. Pertaining to the environment, both are in favor of the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to cut carbon emissions, and both oppose a carbon tax.
One of the issues both Hassan and Ayotte faced was that of connecting with the many independent voters of New Hampshire. Hassan managed to gain these votes by showing a slight Republican edge to her, but by also keeping mostly in line with her party. Hassan broke with her party due to opinions on the Syrian refugee crisis and Guantanamo Bay. Opposing President Obama’s plans on both issues, she stated: “I’ll never be afraid to stand up to my party on any issue because my focus has always been on the security, safety, the well being and the economy of New Hampshire.” Although a few of her views lean conservative, Democrats strongly identify with Hassan due to the basis of her political career stemming from advocating for the education of her son with cerebral palsy.
Ayotte also ventured from her party throughout the campaign trail by sticking up for the curbing of power plant emissions. She attempted to portray herself as a bipartisan candidate, but ultimately failed in convincing the majority of independent voters. Hassan used Ayotte’s past voting record against her, citing her more extreme values aligned with the GOP in cases such as abortion, guns, the economy, and the environment. She brought up Ayotte’s votes to defund Planned Parenthood, her rejection of new gun background checks, and her goal to repeal Obamacare.
Throughout the campaign, Hassan and Ayotte both struggled to identify with presidential nominees of their respective parties. Ayotte first called Donald Trump a role model for children, and then rescinded this statement once the video of his lewd comments arose. She angered many Trump supporters in New Hampshire by doing so, but clarified that she was not trying to influence anyone else’s vote: “This is still a competitive presidential race, and I think the people of New Hampshire will make up their own minds. My decision was my vote on this issue.”
By disavowing Trump, she attempted to appeal to independents by not coming off as too conservative. In an interview, Hassan was asked if she thought Hillary Clinton was trustworthy, and she proceeded to deflect the question: “I support Hillary Clinton for the presidency because her experience and her record demonstrate that she's qualified to hold the job,” she stated. Hassan’s campaign later clarified that she indeed believes Clinton is honest and trustworthy, but her answers to the question showed her hesitation in accepting Clinton as the presidential nominee.
Hassan won reelection for governor of New Hampshire in 2014, a year that many Democrats did not succeed on the ballot, proving her likability. During the days leading up to the election, Hassan discussed her ability to lead a state with predominantly Republican legislature. She stated that she would be able to bring this quality with her to Washington in the Senate. By doing so, she highlighted her ability to compromise and to see both sides of Congress. This likability and portrayal of a bipartisan mindset led her to gain independent votes, and allowed her to succeed in winning the election.
Democrats failed to obtain the lead that they hoped for in terms of the Senate race. They needed a net gain of five seats to take control of the Senate. It was expected that this goal was realistic since so many Republican seats were up for reelection. Democrats did have a win in Illinois by replacing Senator Mark Kirk with Tammy Duckworth, and kept Harry Reid’s seat in Nevada with Catherine Cortez Masto. Of course, Hassan’s win against Ayotte was another big pick up for the Democrats, but they still only ended up gaining two seats. Democrats needed to pick up as many states as possible because in the 2018 election, they will be defending their seats in red and toss up states. A 2016 Democrat majority would have given them less to worry about in the next election, because they would have had more seats to lose without worry. Now, the Republican controlled Congress may exist for much longer than they had hoped.
Hassan’s win benefits Democrats, but it will not be enough for them to strongly influence the Senate. With Hassan’s bipartisan mindset, she may be able to make an impact where others of her party would have failed. Her win will strengthen the minority party’s voice, while creating cooperation with Republicans.