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Our new poll suggests that the New Hampshire Senate race will be a real race, no matter what. Both match-ups, between Rep. Paul Hodes and former Rep. Charlie Bass and between Hodes and former Attorney General Kelly Ayotte are close, with lots of undecideds. While Hodes has an edge with undeclared voters (elsewhere known as independents) against Bass, Ayotte leads in that group, and pushes the number of undecideds higher among them.
Favorables yield some hints as to what's going on:
All three candidates are in positive territory. Ayotte's favorables are the highest by a slim margin, as are her "no opinions." This points to an important task for Paul Hodes and the New Hampshire Democratic Party. Never having faced an election, she has never been defined negatively by an opponent. Her name recognition comes from the relatively depoliticized role of an appointed attorney general. The task for Democrats is to define her now, before she has the chance to do so. And she really hasn't done so yet:
Once out of the Attorney General's office, this Republican said, Ayotte "needs to sit down with someone who knows the nuts and bolts of politics. She has to decide if she wants to run as a conservative or a moderate, where she is on taxes and social issues."
Bass and Hodes, by contrast, have faced campaign opponents (including each other), so their negatives are relatively defined.
As a potential candidate, Ayotte is a strong get for the Republicans. Whether she can adequately explain her decision to resign and run for office just months after she agreed to serve another full term as attorney general, whether she is able to master the nuts and bolts of politics and campaigning, and whether New Hampshire voters like her ultimate decisions about whether she is wants to run as a conservative or a moderate remains to be seen. With this many undecideds and no opinions, the stage is set for the campaign to make the difference.
Originally posted to Daily Kos on Thu Jul 16, 2009 at 12:50 PM PDT.