The XX Factor

The Primary My Neighbors Will Wish They’d Voted In

For a primary day in New Hampshire, a state with politics woven into the very fabric of our fleece pullovers, it feels awfully quiet. Too quiet. Granted, I live in a blue nook of a purple state, and the primary of real interest to most voters is Republican. But N.H.’s very open system allows any voter to vote in any primary: You can literally walk in, declare yourself to be a Republican, vote, and fill out another form on the way out, reinstating your Independent status (42 percent of us) or returning yourself to the Democratic fold (29 percent, with a statistically insignificant advantage of about 1,600 voters over the registered Republicans). It’s a method that could allow us to approach an election style that some have proposed to eliminate the party system, in which a single primary would lead to a run-off between some number of top candidates, regardless of party, if only we used it right.

But although I’ve known declared members of both parties to use the primary to try to game the system (voting for the candidate they believe is least likely to win in November), few take advantage of the real opportunity to vote for the candidate in any contested primary that they truly prefer-the lesser of all evils, if you want to put it that way, or the best in the field. And that is what anyone who cares about the result of the Senate race here should be doing today. But the best estimate is that only 25 percent of registered voters will turn out. That’s decent, even heavy, for a primary in a nonpresidential year, but it shows that most independents and Democrats are going to miss an opportunity to make our voices heard.

The mood in New Hampshire is less angry than in much of the country; our job losses have been low and our economic suffering relatively mild, but the independents who fell so hard for Obama in 2008 are disenchanted with a Democratic majority, and Democrat Paul Hodes faces a tough race against any of the Republican contenders, and there are significant differences among the top three. “Mama Grizzly” Kelly Ayotte, the Republican establishment candidate, leads in the polls. She’s socially more moderate than your average Palin bear in that she would permit abortion in limited circumstances and favors some controls on guns, independent enough to have said she would have supported Sotomayor’s appointment to the Supreme Court (but not Kagan’s), and on fiscal issues she’s likely to stand with the conservative wing of her party. Her opponent Ovid Lamontagne, who’s been polling strongly of late, is an absolute social conservative of the Pat Robertson mold and as fiscally conservative as they come. Lamontagne is expected to bring out the extreme pro-life vote. Bill Binnie, polling third, is an independent-minded businessman, pro-choice, and fiscally conservative with a reputation for vindictiveness; and Jim Bender is the most libertarian of the four, favoring small government and less intrusion on both social and fiscal questions. The choice is ours to make, but if independent and Democrat voters and the less faithful Republicans don’t make it today, then (as so often happens) the most hard-core of the right side may very well end up choosing New Hampshire’s next senator. With our system, there’s no excuse for letting that happen. Any New Hampshire resident who fails to vote today and ends up dissatisfied on Nov. 3 has only herself to blame.

Photograph of Kelly Ayotte via .