New Hampshire’s 2nd District Congressional race is shaping up as a rematch of the 2010 election, with incumbent Republican Charlie Bass set to face off against Democrat Annie Kuster once more.
But this time around, it looks like Bass could be in trouble.
Despite having a name recognition advantage in an extremely favorable year for Republicans, Bass narrowly eked out a victory over Kuster, by less than 4,000 votes, in 2010.
This year, which is seen as more favorable to Democrats than 2010, could be a struggle for Bass.
A recent University of New Hampshire Survey Center poll showed that Bass remains unpopular in his district. Only 30 percent of 2nd District residents have a favorable opinion of Bass, while 35 percent have an unfavorable view.
And the latest campaign finance figures show that Kuster has outraised Bass so far in this election cycle. According to OpenSecrets.org, she’s raised $1,060,883 so far compared to Bass’s $745,025.
For now, at least, it doesn’t look like either Bass or Kuster will face a primary challenge, though the filing period isn’t until June.
“My guess is we would know who that person is by now if there was someone getting in or waiting in the wings,” said Dante Scala, a University of New Hampshire political scientist.
Those who want Bass to hang onto his seat have already started to take to the airwaves. Ads sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are up on local television, focusing on Bass' pro-business voting record. And it’s only going to get noisier from here on out.
Andy Smith, director of the UNH Survey Center, said Bass is going to need all the help he can get given how close the 2010 race was, and how much the political environment has changed since then.
“That (2010) was such a strong Republican year, the strongest in a century, and Bass won by 4,000 votes against a first-time candidate who was largely unknown," Smith said. "More troubling was that Kuster was better organized, had a better message and had more money against someone who was almost an incumbent.
"This time around, it’s the same campaign, same candidate, and she’s outperforming him already again," he added. "That’s got to be the most troubling thing for the Bass people. It’s like they didn’t change anything from 2010 and they’re doing the same thing, and I don’t think they can count on the same results because the environment is so different.”
Scala largely agrees with Smith's assessment.
“It’s clear that Charlie Bass had a big advantage in 2010, he clearly had the wind at his back, and yet he still didn’t get 50 percent of the vote despite those advantages,” Scala said. “So in 2012, where you’ve gotta at least expect things to be more balanced, Bass has certainly got to be considered endangered.”
Especially since the 2nd Congressional District tends to be a Democratic leaning district, he said.
But Dean Spiliotes, a Southern New Hampshire University political scientist, said it's way too early to count Bass out.
“Kuster may be a strong opponent, but Bass is a strong politician,” he said.
Still, even Spiliotes conceded that Bass hasn't necessarily "made the case he wanted to make."
“In 2010, he ran as a friend of the Tea Party. Now he’s kind of back to where he’s always been in that district – conservative in some respects, but also aware of the demographics in his Congressional District," Spiliotes said. "He’s back where he was in terms of how he’s legislating. But he’s such a tenacious politician, I’m hesitant to say he’s in big trouble.”
In the end, it’s not just about the candidates. A lot depends on what’s going on with the economy, Spiliotes said. If the economy continues to improve, that will help Democrats like Kuster. If it tanks, Bass might be buoyed.
“It’s a little more mixed,” than 2010, he said. “I think there are going to be some losses among Republicans, but it’s not a slam dunk for the Democrats either.”