Observers of New Hampshire politics were certainly spoiled in 2014 on the mere entertainment value of what took place in the state.
There was the most expensive — and wildly unpredictable — U.S. Senate contest between Democrat Jeanne Shaheen and Republican Scott Brown. Casino gambling was stopped by just one vote in the Statehouse. Republicans even agreed to a gas tax increase and to expand Medicaid.
But there already signs that 2015 could be even an more interesting year politically in the state. Here are two political dynamics to watch.
Which direction will the Republican Party take?
Yes, this is a bold question, but the Republican Party appears to be at a political crossroads locally and nationally.
Locally there is a very relevant fight between the party's conservative base and the party's establishment moderates. In 2010, heading into the last presidential primary season, the base was clearly winning, given Tea Party leaders were elected as state House Speaker and to lead the state Republican Party. But 2014, heading into a different presidential primary, the establishment struck back. For the first time since 1986, Republicans nominated a pro-choice statewide candidate. Actually, they nominated two, their nominees for governor and U.S. Senate. Further, the party apparatus is firmly in the grip of U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who has never been loved by the party's vocal base. The upcoming presidential primary should shift this dynamic.
While locally there are tensions, nationally there is a much more fundamental conversation taking place. For a generation the Republican Party was defined by a three-legged stool of fiscal conservatism, social conservatism and strong national security positions. Now, with polling showing the Republican Party's brand as low as it has ever been, presidential candidates will come to New Hampshire fighting over this definition of the party.
Some potential Republican presidential candidates have raised taxes or expanded Medicaid. Some believe that the party should take a more libertarian approach to social issues like gay marriage. Then there are the likes of Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who believe the United States shouldn't be so involved in foreign conflicts anymore.
Will the legislature approve of casino gambling and legalized marijuana?
There is a lot of momentum on these two issues heading into the upcoming legislative session.
The reason why the state doesn't have casino gambling already is due to the House consistently rejecting the idea. This session new House Speaker, Shawn Jasper (R-Hudson) has never voted for a gambling bill, but it is unclear just how much power he will this session to impose his will. He has also repeatedly said that he isn't opposed to the concept of gambling, he just opposed the particular gambling bills that have been proposed. This upcoming budget session, Gov. Maggie Hassan and the Republican-led State Senate favor casino gambling and will be looking for more revenue.
Revenue could also be found in taxing marijuana sales, should the legislature pass a legalization bill. Already four states — Colorado, Alaska, Oregon and Washington — have legalized marijuana and it would be consistent with the state's Live Free or Die motto. However, no major legislative leader nor Hassan, are big backers of the idea.
(James Pindell covers politics for WMUR. You can see his breaking news and analysis at WMUR.com/political scoop and on WMUR-TV)
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