New Hampshire: Live Free or Die. It's the most libertarian state motto you can find, and, until November 2006, it represented the most libertarian Red state in the country. Boasting two Republican senators with top marks for fiscal conservatism (and who also voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2006), two congressmen who received 82% ratings from libertarian-minded think-tank Americans for Tax Reform in 2006, and a consistently Republican-dominated state legislature, New Hampshire seemed to be the preserve of Barry Goldwater clones.
Yet, now, New Hampshire finds itself home to one of the most liberal - as opposed to libertarian - members of Congress, Carol Shea-Porter. And it is, simultaneously, close to rejecting America's most libertarian senator, John Sununu, when he comes up for reelection in 2008.
Ms. Shea-Porter is an active proponent of increased taxation and spending, and decreased economic liberty. At her campaign Web site, she promises to "push to eliminate the tax cuts for the top 1% of income earners" and to vote to "put a Social Security tax on someone's full income, not just the first $90,000." She also talks about paying higher taxes as a "patriotic duty" and advocates socialized medicine under the guise of a
plan called "Medicare for All." She strongly opposes school vouchers (which she apparently views as a right-wing plot to destroy public schools), describes John Murtha as a "conservative," and advocates the creation of a NASA-style institute, independent (and duplicative) of the Department of Energy, to "set energy self-reliance and clean environment goals" and then pursue them.
For all of Ms. Shea-Porter's ranting about warrant-less wiretapping, she is anti-libertarian to the core on just about every count going.
Contrast Ms. Shea-Porter with Mr. Sununu. He, too, is a staunch advocate for civil-liberties protection, having joined Democrats in a filibuster of the USA PATRIOT Act renewal. But, in addition, he is arguably the toughest fiscal-conservative and limited-government advocate in the Senate. A staunch proponent of government taking and spending less taxpayer money, he earned a 95% rating from Americans for Tax Reform in 2006 (the highest score awarded to a senator), a 95% rating for the last Congress from Citizens Against Government Waste, and an 89% rating for 2006 from the fiscally conservative National Taxpayers Union.
Mr. Sununu is probably the best embodiment of fiscally conservative, socially moderate, "leave me alone," libertarian thinking to be found in the Senate — the kind of Republican who epitomizes the Granite State's politics. Yet, still, his 2008 race is expected to be the toughest Senate re-election bid in the entire country.
As of November 2006, Survey USA put Mr. Sununu's approval rating at a mere 47%. This, together with Ms. Shea-Porter's election last autumn, begs the question: Do New Hampshire voters' political beliefs no longer match their state motto? Or have Republican missteps been so disastrous that New Hampshire voters would rather vote for a statist Democrat than anyone, no matter how libertarian, with an R listed after his or her name?
Certainly, the unpopularity of the Iraq war with New Hampshire voters, and Mr. Sununu's support for continued engagement there, is not helping him. Nor are the lingering bad feelings over 2002's phone jamming scandal, which occurred in the context of his first campaign for the Senate — though the New Hampshire GOP is widely regarded as the responsible party, not Mr. Sununu or his campaign.
Adding to Mr. Sununu's woes, northward migration from liberal Massachusetts seems to be playing a role in the misfortunes of Granite State Republicans. Political insiders on the ground remain worried about Mr. Sununu, due to the shifting philosophy of the state's electorate. As the state becomes more liberal and more war-skeptical, the prospect of Steve Marchand, the young mayor of Portsmouth — who is more Blue Dog than Barbara Boxer — posing a serious challenge to Mr. Sununu seems increasingly likely.
Of course, the irony of all this is that the libertarian-Republican brand has not actually worn out in New Hampshire. It still appears to have real appeal with regard to the presidential race. But while Mayor Giuliani's freedom-and-liberty message is resonating in New Hampshire (a Suffolk University poll of likely New Hampshire voters released on March 8 shows him leading the Republican pack with 37% of the vote), that support does not seem to be trickling down to Mr. Sununu.
The 2008 election is likely to be a tough one for Republicans nationwide — despite the fact that the Democrats are already failing to keep their campaign promises, such as to pursue a centrist agenda and clean up Washington. Whether Mr. Sununu will survive politically may be determined ultimately by whether New Hampshire voters are so fed up with Bush & Co. that they're willing to throw out a senator who embodies the state's motto.