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Valley Helps Repaint Granite State Blue

Norwich residents Rosamond Orford, Reeve Williams and Sandie Anderson, and Margo Howland, of White River Junction, celebrate as the announcement is made on television that President Obama is projected to win New Hampshire during an election night party at the Hotel Coolidge in White River Junction.
(Valley News — Sarah Priestap)

Norwich residents Rosamond Orford, Reeve Williams and Sandie Anderson, and Margo Howland, of White River Junction, celebrate as the announcement is made on television that President Obama is projected to win New Hampshire during an election night party at the Hotel Coolidge in White River Junction. (Valley News — Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

New Hampshire took a big step back toward the blue side of the spectrum yesterday, sticking with President Obama, ditching Republican U.S. Rep. Charlie Bass, electing Democrat Maggie Hassan as the new governor and routing several House lawmakers who rode the Tea Party wave into office in 2010.

Voters and observers said that the national races were defined almost entirely by the economy, but there was a clear backlash in the Upper Valley against Republicans who took power in 2010 and carried out several controversial initiatives.

“It’s a Democratic wave — part of it is a reaction to the extremists in the current Legislature, specifically the House, and part of it is that New Hampshire is trending Democratic,” said longtime state Rep. Sue Almy, D-Lebanon. “We’ve got coattails going down, and coattails going up.” Lebanon and Hanover, where Obama rolled up large margins in 2008, stayed loyal to the president, again giving Obama similarly large victories. In Lebanon, Obama actually did a little better than he did in 2008, winning 4,756 votes while Mitt Romney got 2,055, exactly the same number John McCain won in the city. In Hanover, Obama won by 3,700 votes, about 1,000 less than in 2008.

“One of our jobs in Lebanon is to get as big a vote as we possibly can to help make up for communities were there’s not as much support,” said Lebanon City Councilor Karen Liot Hill, a Democratic activist. “I think people are still excited. It wasn’t the same kind of excitement it was four years ago. It was a feeling of people knowing they had to vote, knowing their vote mattered and wanting to give him a vote of confidence.” Among the Lebanon supporters was Kim Rheinlander, who did a bit of volunteer work for Obama in 2008, but poured many more hours into this campaign, planting signs, making phone calls, and giving a ride to Enfield residents who could n’t get to the polls yesterday.

“I just feel very strongly that there are two very different choices for the way our country can go, and I’m not happy with Romney’s vision,” Rheinlander said. “This election is just scary. (Obama) has a much broader vision of what the economy is. It’s not just the business perspective. It’s a balanced way to look at the economy — I don’t like what big business has done to our economy.” Grantham, Enfield, Canaan, and New London registered small dips in support for Obama, but did not allow Romney to get close.

After more than $2 billion in advertising, four nationally televised debates, dozens of rallies, and more phone calls and fliers than New Hampshire residents care to count, voters yesterday said their presidential votes were based on what everyone always assumed it was based on: Who could bring the economy back to prosperity?

Most voters said they wanted to give Obama more time, and were disinclined to blame him for an economy that was in a tailspin before he got comfortable in the Oval Office.

“I think he’s done all he could do,” Canaan resident Linda Lashua said. “Without the cooperation of the Senate and Congress, he’s done what he can in a difficult time.” “I want the country to keep going the way it is,” Enfield resident Charles Van Luyn said. “The economy, it’s not perfect, but it’s better than it was four years ago.” Statehouse Republicans had a rough day in the Upper Valley.

Enfield State Rep. Paul Mirski, who championed several of controversial Speaker William O’Brien’s initiatives, was crushed 1,526-808 by Democratic challenger Wendy Piper.

State Rep. Spec Bowers, R-Sunapee, who also rode a Tea Party wave in 2010 along with Mirski, suffered a similar fate, losing to Democrat Sue Gottling.

And in Claremont, voters selected Democrats for all four of the town’s House seats, and nearly turned their back on native son Joe Osgood in his losing state Senate fight against Hanover Democrat David Pierce. The Republican Osgood prevailed by fewer than 80 votes in Claremont, not nearly enough of a cushion to overcome Pierce’s strong support in Hanover and Lebanon.

A ballot initiative to amend the state constitution to prohibit an income tax appeared to have cleared 50 percent both across the state and in the Upper Valley, but still fell well short of the two-thirds necessary for approval.

In addition to concerns about the economy and the Republicans in the Legislature, there was another political force at work yesterday — the enduring popularity of Gov. John Lynch, who is stepping aside after eight years in office.

Hassan coasted to an unexpectedly easy victory over Republican Ovide Lamontagne — hers was one of the first victories declared official last night.

Many voters, even some who cast ballots for Romney, said they wanted to give Hassan, a former state senator, a chance because she had received the blessing of the moderate Lynch, whose approval ratings have consistently stayed above 65 percent.

“I was pretty happy with Lynch,” said Canaan resident Toby Currier, who voted for Romney and Hassan. “I voted for him every time, and I think she embodies a lot of his polices, and I’m going to give her a shot.” Fellow Canaan resident Russell Lester was a staunch Romney supporter — he even thinks Obama should face criminal charges for his handling of the death of the U.S. ambassador in Libya. But even Lester said he was close to voting for Hassan.

“It’s a hard one,” Lester said.

The divide was apparent in Sunapee.

The town, which narrowly favored Obama in 2008, went for Romney yesterday, 1,075-916. But Sunapee voters split their ticket, giving Hassan a 58-vote win.

In every town, Romney had pockets of supporters, and he generally did better than John McCain did here in 2008.

“I trust a businessman more than I trust a community organizer,” Newport resident Steve Potter said. “I am pro-business.” But in the Upper Valley, voters were determined to stay the course.

Haverhill resident Joe Aguilar said he sees signs that the economy is picking up. He is still living paycheck to paycheck, but he scraped enough money from his carpentry and painting work to begin to put a little aside, and he even bought a new truck. (Haverhill had backed Obama in 2008, but Romney won the town by one vote, 975-974 yesterday, one of the few in the Valley to go Republican).

“I think Obama realizes better what the middle class and underprivileged need,” Aguilar said. “People haven’t given him enough time.”

Valley News Staff Writer Jim Kenyon and contributor Jordan Cuddemi contributed to this report. Mark Davis can be reached at mcdavis@vnews.com or 603-727-3304.