New Hampshire Governor: Is John Lynch in Trouble?

Until quite recently, New Hampshire's Democratic governor appeared politically impregnable. But, he's taken some hits lately. Could a Republican oust him in the fall?
by | May 12, 2010

The other day, I mentioned that the governors' races that changed most substantially in recent weeks were in Maryland, Arizona and Massachusetts. I probably could have added New Hampshire to the list.

In New Hampshire, Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat, has appeared politically impregnable pretty much ever since he was elected in 2004. Lynch's centrist inclinations sometimes irked his fellow Democrats, but they also gave Republicans little to complain about. Lynch was reelected with over 70% of the vote in both 2006 and 2008.

April polling, though, shows some cracks in Lynch's armor. Polls from Rasmussen, Public Policy Polling and the University of New Hampshire all showed Lynch struggling to crack 50% against his top Republican challengers. The Concord Monitor helped clarify some of the problems Lynch is facing:

There was the Joint Underwriting Association policyholders threatening litigation - again. There was the resignation of the state securities director citing a government cover-up of regulatory failings relating to an alleged Ponzi scheme. Then there's the State Employees' Association and the state entering federal mediation, nearly a year after their contract expired. And one liquor commissioner was arrested for drunken driving while another is under investigation relating to an enforcement action in Keene.

In trying to fill an approximately $220 million budget hole, the House Finance Committee approved lots of revenue ideas - but not the one Lynch suggested. The committee also approved a complicated population switch involving prisoners and juvenile delinquents, apparently without consulting with either the Corrections or Health and Human Services departments.

What does that mean for Lynch, who is running for his fourth term as governor? According to several political analysts, it's too early to tell if any of the recent issues will sway the election. But if the past is any indication, many of these problems - with the exception of the state budget - may not mean much.

As with pretty much every incumbent governor, Lynch's biggest problem is the economy. Besides directly causing trouble for governors, the fragile state of the economy is causing indirect problems. The state budget wouldn't have a hole if the economy was doing better. And, it would be easier to agree to a new contract with state workers if the budget didn't have a hole.

The good news for Lynch is that the economy is more likely than not to continue to improve through November and that none of his Republican opponents seem especially well-known or well-positioned to beat him. Still, the race at least is interesting -- and I wouldn't have expected that six months ago.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com  | 

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