Tea Party spills into New Hampshire? NH Senate race too close to call

The original Tea Party may have taken place in Boston Harbor, but it seems the revolutionary spirit has worked its way up into New Hampshire waters this 2010 primary. Take at look at what happened in the race for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by outgoing Republican Judd Gregg, where the real fight was between two anti-establishment Republicans.

There were four serious candidates to start: Two millionaire businessmen, Bill Binnie and Jim Bender; state attorney general, Kelly Ayotte; and lawyer, conservative activist and former candidate for NH governor, Ovide Lamontagne. The numbers, during the duration of the campaign, played out much as one might expect for New Hampshire. Riding the momentum she had built by successfully prosecuting the only conviction in a death penalty case in nearly a century in New Hampshire, Kelly Ayotte was the frontrunner from the beginning. Although down to earth—her husband is a military guy who runs a small snowplowing business—she quickly became the “establishment” candidate.

Bill Binnie, an economic conservative and social moderate, seemed to fit the NH bill, and he quickly vaulted into a close second place in the polls. Jim Bender was never able to differentiate himself from Binnie, and Ovide Lamontagne registered low numbers. In most years, either Binnie or Ayotte would have wound up being the flag-bearer for NH conservatives. But this is 2010, with tea party populism and economic discontent in the air.

What happened is Ovide, who has touted his ties to the tea party recently, and who conservative talk show host Laura Ingraham calls “The only true conservative” in the race, began to climb in the polls. And all his gains were Binnie’s losses. Ayotte, who is supported by Sarah Palin, remained on top, with Ovide closing quickly. As of this morning, with almost all precincts reporting, less than 1% of the vote separates the two candidates, and the race remains too close to call.

Regardless of which candidate comes out on top—either one will likely be able to request a recount—the story here is that the two businessmen on the ticket, the fiscally conservative moderates often supported by NH republicans, couldn’t garner a quarter of the of the vote between them. The race was between the Sarah Palin backed candidate and the tea party backed one. When the NH GOP wants something this different, a strange breeze may be blowing all the way till November 4th.

Phil Brand is a freelance blogger and author and resides in New Hampshire.

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