Unofficial results have Democrat Kevin Cavanaugh defeating Republican David Boutin by a very comfortable margin of 55% to 45% in the Special Election for State Senate District 16.
The result should serve as a wake-up call to the NH GOP because Boutin held the seat from 2010 to 2016 and Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton essentially battled to a draw in 2016, with Clinton eking out a 15,150 to 15,040 win.
The difference in performance between Trump and Boutin is even more striking because Trump had to contend with hordes of out-of-State college students from Southern New Hampshire University and Saint Anselm voting in his election, while Boutin had the benefit of many of these students being home for summer break.
So why did Boutin so underperform Trump?
For starters Boutin and the NH GOP ran a Hillary Clinton campaign. That is, the campaign was all about what a bad person Cavanaugh is, and nothing about the issues that matter to middle-class voters.
Worse still, it was a maladroit negative campaign. For example, GOP fliers never connected the dots between fellow Alderman Tommy Katsiantonis’ indictment for tax fraud and Cavanaugh or between conflicts of interest involving other Aldermen and Cavanaugh. One would think that voters saw these fliers as ham-handed attempts at guilt by association.
And while Trump drew sharp contrasts with Hillary on issues that really mattered to voters: illegal immigration (the wall), health care (repealing Obamacare), the middle class (America first), government dysfunction and corruption (drain-the-swamp), Boutin didn’t draw policy contrasts with Cavanaugh that mattered to the Trump voters. As I discussed here, Boutin couldn’t draw distinctions the way Trump did because Boutin is a big-governemnt Republican, not a drain-the-swamp Republican. (As a parenthetical aside to Governor Sununu and his team, maybe Medicaid Expansion is not the magic carpet you think it is?)
To be clear, Cavanaugh didn’t meaningfully address these issues either, relying instead on platitudes and on negative campaigning. The difference-maker was that his hard-left base believed that he would vote with them on their issues and understood he needed to run a stealth campaign in order not to scare independent voters into voting for Boutin.
Another takeaway is how irrelevant the legacy press has become. Both the Union Leader and the Concord Monitor endorsed Boutin.
And another takeaway is the noninvolvement of Governor Sununu.
The biggest takeaway, though, is the NH GOP still does not understand the best way to GOTV (get the vote out) is to talk about issues that matter to voters.