Lynch Lays In
If you caught me as a guest Tuesday morning on WKXL Radio’s New Hampshire Now, you know that we did a brief preview of that day's gubernatorial debate at Saint Anselm College. I thought that Governor Lynch might very well attempt to stay above the fray in the debate, in order to avoid giving Republican nominee John Stephen any opportunities to hit back hard. One of Lynch’s strengths over the years has been his ability to inhabit the position of chief executive with only minimal recourse to rancorous partisan discourse, a political skill which has helped him garner continued support among moderates, and even some Republicans.
In this context, I thought Lynch might focus primarily on an optimistic message about how the Granite State has faired much better than other states during the recent economic difficulties, and leave frontal attacks on the Stephen campaign to various political surrogates. Instead, Governor Lynch actually went after John Stephen early and aggressively in the debate. While some will argue that Lynch was simply defending himself against Stephen’s opening attack, this sort of engagement brings back memories of a Democratic challenger who went straight at incumbent Governor Craig Benson in 2004. We certainly know that Lynch is capable of hitting hard, even if it hasn’t defined most of his time in office.
I think a couple of factors help to explain Lynch’s willingness to lay into Stephen yesterday. With no serious primary challengers, Stephen has spent most of the past year relentlessly pounding the governor and his administration. This has no doubt exacerbated an already antagonistic relationship between the two camps. As a result, I wasn’t surprised to see the Lynch campaign directly question Stephen’s character in its first general election ad. Lynch is also likely feeling a little political heat from all of the attention the race is starting to receive from the Republican Governors Association and from various Republican presidential hopefuls with significant national visibility. Finally, while Stephen is still trailing in the polls, he is closer than other previous general election challengers have gotten to Lynch, and this is in an electoral climate that has most Democratic incumbents on edge.
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