Four years ago, Democrats like Carol Shea-Porter of New Hampshire sailed into Congress on the Democratic wave. She held on two years later, boosted in part by President Obama's surge. And now? The forecast is cloudy, in New Hampshire and elsewhere. And Democrats may be dealing with an enthusiasm gap among such traditional stalwarts as female voters.
Rep. Carol Shea-Porter rode a Democratic wave that propelled her to office four years ago. Now, says analyst Andrew Smith, "the Republican wave of anger against the Obama administration and general dissatisfaction with the state of the economy may be the wave that takes her out."
Cheryl Senter/Pool, AP
Cheryl Senter/Pool, AP
In 2006, Porter was a kind of Tea Party-style candidate for the left — a fired-up insurgent who took down a party-approved Democrat and a powerful Republican incumbent.
Andrew Smith, a professor of political science and director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, says that in 2006 and 2008, Shea-Porter was one of the candidates who brought energy and money to the Democratic Party.
"She certainly rode that wave into office," he says. "But this year, that Democratic wave has already crashed on the shore, and the Republican wave of anger against the Obama administration and general dissatisfaction with the state of the economy may be the wave that takes her out."
Of course, Shea-Porter has been the underdog before. At a recent house party in Hampstead for grass-roots liberal activists, she said she agreed with a prominent GOP blogger.
"He said 30 percent of the people in New Hampshire would walk over their mother to vote against me; 32 percent would walk over their mother to vote for me; and that it would be a GOTV [get-out-the-vote] fistfight to get out the rest — and I think that's pretty accurate," she said.
Shea-Porter's get-out-the-vote effort rests on the base — liberals — who propelled her to power. But pollsters in New Hampshire report a noticeable gap in enthusiasm among a core constituency for Shea-Porter and the Democrats — women. They traditionally are more likely to favor Democrats. This year, those women may favor sitting it out.
You can hear that in the voices of women like Tina Stoddard, a passport office clerk from Portsmouth.
"2008 was all about Hillary. Yay — women, power, the whole nine," Stoddard says. "And I just don't see a strong woman out there — not that I am watching closely enough, but I just don't see that person that is going to make me go, 'Hey, I should probably pay attention a little bit more.' "
Stoddard spoke at a little diner called the Cafe Espresso — where then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton choked up when asked about how she kept going.
Across the room, Republican Pamela Vangeystelen, an innkeeper, says Republicans are enjoying the rise of female candidates like Kelly Ayotte, who is running for Senate and has been endorsed by Sarah Palin.
"I'm very excited, yes, because it's looking more and more like we are going to have more influence, and hopefully we can bring some tax rates down and help the small businesses in the community," Vangeystelen says.
Less than three weeks from Election Day, both women said they didn't know much about the congressional race between Shea-Porter and her Republican opponent, Frank Guinta.
Guinta, the former mayor of Manchester, is somewhat ahead in the polls. He has taken heat for campaign finance irregularities, in particular for failing initially to disclose a bank account holding up to $500,000.
Guinta says he has focused on issues like the deficit, the economy and limited government.
"I continue to focus on those things," Guinta says. "[Shea-Porter] can try to tie me to whatever she wants, but the fact of the matter is, she refuses to talk about substantive issues, and is attacking me because she feels that she's behind."
Guinta has been tagged a "young gun" by national Republicans who offer money and organizing support. And conservative groups are planning an additional ad blitz against his opponent in the next two weeks.