Three of the four congressional seats in New Hampshire are on the ballot this fall, and regardless of the outcomes, the nation's first presidential primary state will have a vastly altered political profile when the 112th Congress convenes in January. Ironically, the big shift has less to do with the winners in November than with who is not on the ballot.
"The biggest thing we lose is [Sen.] Judd Gregg," said Tom Rath, a Republican strategist and former state attorney general. "Judd Gregg's not going to get replaced. It took Judd Gregg 30 years to get what he has now."
The big New Hampshire story in this election cycle has been the likelihood that Democrats may lose the two House seats they captured in 2006, and former state attorney general Kelly Ayotte, having survived a tough tea party challenge in the GOP primary, is favored to succeed Gregg. Freshman Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen is not on the ballot this year and could be the only member of the current delegation returning to Washington in 2011.
Both House races are considered toss-ups or likely Republican pickups. And in the Senate race, Ayotte's white-knuckle primary victory over Ovide Lamontagne last week left her the favorite to beat Democratic Rep. Paul Hodes.
But even with such a dramatic triple-axle change in the face of the delegation, it is Gregg's retirement that will resonate most, according to power-brokers from both parties. His departure ends a level of seniority and expertise that even Democrats acknowledge was beneficial to New Hampshire. "He certainly has been a good provider for the state in terms of federal appropriations," said Lou D'Allesandro, a Democratic state senator.
Even Democrats acknowledge that former Republican Rep. Charles Bass enjoys a significant name-recognition edge over the Democratic nominee, Ann McClane Kuster, in the contest to succeed Hodes, who bounced Bass in 2006. The anti-incumbent wave has put Democratic Rep. Carol Shea-Porter at risk of losing to Manchester mayor Frank Guinta who, like Bass, survived a testy GOP primary.
Republicans argue that such an erosion of the recent Democratic gains would constitute a course correction, a "return to normal" in keeping with the Granite State's true ideological fabric.
"What you're really going to see is a dramatic political shift because for a short period here the Democrats have had the luxury of having some far-left representatives who really don't reflect the values and principles of New Hampshire," said Stephen Meyers, a Republican fundraiser based in the state.
Democrats, of course, disagree, arguing that New Hampshire's new demographic reality, which state party chair Ray Buckley claims cost Republicans an enrollment loss of 75,000 members from 2002 to 2010.
"A lot of the media around the country, and to some extent here in the state, have bought into the national narrative that I just don't see happening here," Buckley said Monday. "New Hampshire has had a significant transformation over the last eight years."
Democrats say they've done well for the state with two congressional members who backed Obama in the 2008 primary, and continue to have good relationships with the White House.
"We would lose that plus position that we have held, because both of our members of the House have had a pretty good profile over these last four years," D'Allesandro said.
Andrew Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, predicts that the November election results could be "an inverse of 2006" with Republicans picking up all the federal offices.
How a Gregg-less New Hampshire delegation would fare hinges, say strategists in both parties, on the makeup of the new Congress it joins in January. Hodes has worked to package himself as a "fiscal conservative." Ayotte was one of the few Republicans to survive a robust tea party Senate challenge. And Shaheen could distinguish herself as a swing-state Democratic stalwart, even though her two-year tenure puts her near the bottom of the Senate seniority rankings.
"You've got to wait and see how things would mesh if the group came in, but there could be an almost total change," Rath said.
If Republicans take control of the House, a Bass win could yield unexpected advantages for the state. Bass has been trumpeting to voters that his six previous terms would count toward seniority, truncating the track to choice committee assignments.
Regardless of the vintage of its congressional delegates come January, the presidential calendar will help ensure that New Hampshire members are not ignored or neglected on the Hill, Smith said.
"Because of the presidential primary and because you have so many people [in Congress] who think they ought to be running for president, I think folks get a little more attention than they ought to be getting," he said.