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James Pindell - No big message; just structural advantages

Sorry New Hampshire voters, but your political identity crisis continues.

For 100 years this state was a solid Republican state. Then in the 1990s it became a swing state, up for grabs every election by Republicans and Democrats. In the last decade the state experienced the biggest Democratic election year in nearly 150 years, which was soon followed by the biggest Republican year ever.

Yes, it is true that New Hampshire Democrats have won five out of the last six presidential election here. And, yes, Democrats have won eight out of the last nine contests for governor. And, yes, New Hampshire did seem to be one of the few places in the entire country this past week that didn't get wrapped up in the big Republican wave that gave Republicans the majority in the U.S. Senate, more seats in the U.S. House and more Republican governors in state capitals, including in neighboring Maine and Massachusetts and almost even in Vermont.

There are people who look at the election results in New Hampshire this past week and see it continuing the trend line that New Hampshire is on a path to becoming a pure Democratic state. These people might be right in 20 years, but it is too early to say for sure just yet.

The truth is the 2014 midterm elections told us basically nothing about New Hampshire's political environment. Democrats did win three out of the four major races on Tuesday, but Republicans took over the majority in the state House of Representatives and the state's Executive Council and expanded their majority in the state Senate.

And in the Congressional races, consider that for the first time since 1992 voters here elected a Democrat in one district and a Republican in the other. What message did that send?

New Hampshire political identity crisis is rooted more fundamental changes that just who wins on Election Day anyway. There are three larger dynamics going on.

First, there are the demographic changes. The population is becoming less rural and more clustered in Southern New Hampshire, where now 50 percent of the population live in just two counties. Attracted by the Live Free or Die mindset, the lifestyle and cheaper housing within commuting distance of Boston, the state saw a population surge in the last 40 years, which has only now begun to drop-off. Nearly 70 percent of state residents are from somewhere else. It is not the same state it was before.

Second, there is political realignment keeping the state a swing state. While the percentage of Democrats has gone up over the last 25 years, the real momentum is with independent, or undeclared, voters. This group now makes up 43 percent of all state voters. Because they are unaffiliated they tend to be more open minded about voting for either party and going with the national political mood. (Though in midterm elections like last week, they tend to just not vote.)

Third, there are changes inside the once dominant Republican Party in New Hampshire. As the national Republican Party moved to represent the values of the country's growing South and West, moderate "New England Republicans", like former Congressman Charlie Bass, have become fewer and far between. They have been replaced by a new faction in the local GOP coming from "liberty" or more libertarian minded Republicans.

But the biggest reason why the midterm elections didn't really tell us anything about the state politically is that the difference between who won and who lost had really nothing to do with how New Hampshire voters really think.

Every win could be explained by some structural advantage. Due to redistricting if Republicans win Republican seats and Democrats win Democratic seats we would see same Republican majorities that won on Tuesday. (Republicans did write the current redistricting law, after all.)

Democrat Maggie Hassan won a second term as governor because historically most win a second term. Republican Frank Guinta won the 1st Congressional District seat because that district does have slighty more Republican voters. Democrat Annie Kuster won her 2nd Congressional District seat because there are slightly more Democrats there.

If you want broad political conclusions about New Hampshire you might have to wait until 2016.

(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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