Emerson College’s latest New Hampshire poll has the Kelly Ayotte campaign smiling from ear to ear. More than a year out from both the primary and general elections, Emerson has Ayotte solidly out in front of the competition over all comers in the race for Granite State governor.
The former U.S. senator has the support of 45 percent of GOP primary voters, while nine percent support former state Senate President Chuck Morse and four percent back state Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut.
At the same time, 35 percent of Republican primary voters remain undecided.
Ayotte is also the early favorite in hypothetical general-election matchups with both Democratic candidates, Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig and Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington. In an Ayotte-Craig election, the Republican leads 46 to 37. Facing Warmington, Ayotte’s lead grows to 47 percent against Warmington’s 34 percent.
“Kelly Ayotte is coming out with somewhat of an advantage in name recognition,” Spencer Kimball, executive director of Emerson College Polling, said during an NHJournal podcast interview.
Morse campaign advisor Dave Carney told NHJournal that it is too early to lend credence to the numbers.
“Name I.D. is not the same as winning. And Twitter/X will not be the deciding factor for N.H. voters,” Carney said. “It’s a long way to the September ’24 primary. Once the presidential primary has concluded, the voters in New Hampshire will turn their attention to the state elections.
“This election will be about records, experience, and whose vision for New Hampshire in the post-Gov. Chris Sununu world works best for them,” Carney added.
Nevertheless, the Ayotte team likes what it sees so far. “This poll serves as proof that Kelly’s message is resonating with voters,” Ayotte campaign spokesperson John Corbett told NHJournal. “They want a tough, conservative governor who will keep New Hampshire safe, prosperous, and free. Kelly is just getting started.”
Meanwhile, the Democratic primary is starting as a closer race. Thirty percent of Democratic primary voters support Craig, while 15 percent support Warmington. However, a majority (52 percent) are undecided between the two.
“Early on, it looks like Craig is the stronger candidate for the nomination,” Kimball said. “There’s still a majority undecided, but she’s leading two to one. So, Cinde’s going to have to make up some room there.”
Emerson College also asked voters what they believe are the most important issues facing New Hampshire. Thirty-two percent said the economy (taxes, inflation, and jobs) is most important, followed by housing affordability at 21 percent. But what caught Kimball’s eye was “the number of people who put down affordable housing. It cuts by both parties, Republicans and Democrats.”
One issue that has dominated the governor’s race so far is where the candidates stand on criticizing New Hampshire’s southern neighbor.
Ayotte made headlines when she kicked off her campaign by attacking Massachusetts, saying, “I’m running for governor because New Hampshire is one election away from becoming Massachusetts — from becoming something we are not.”
But Emerson’s polling suggests Ayotte’s strategy of attacking the Bay State is paying off. Specifically, when asked to compare New Hampshire to Massachusetts, New Hampshire voters are bullish on the Granite State’s superiority.
Ninety-one percent believed New Hampshire is a much better place to live (61 percent) or a slightly better place to live (30 percent) than Massachusetts. Only nine percent of Granite State voters thought New Hampshire was a worse place to live than the Bay State.
“There’s a lot of pride up there in New Hampshire,” Kimball observed. “And people are happy to be living in New Hampshire, not looking to come back down here to Massachusetts.”
The 61 percent who said New Hampshire was a much better place to live includes over three-fourths (77 percent) of Republicans and four in 10 (41 percent) Democrats.
“I think it is a good strategy for Sen. Ayotte to contrast New Hampshire from Massachusetts,” state Senate President Jeb Bradley told Drew Cline on Tuesday’s WFEA Morning Update. “But the fact of the matter is if you look at the two announced candidates…it’s been Chuck Morse who for years has worked as Senate president and as chair of the Senate Finance Committee to keep New Hampshire from becoming Massachusetts.”
Bradley continued, “It’s good that Sen. Ayotte is highlighting it, but Chuck Morse got the job done. Now, Chuck’s going to have to get out there and talk about that, and talk about it, and talk about it, and talk about it some more.”
In addition to gauging the state’s gubernatorial race, Emerson College also polled the presidential race in the Granite State. There, former President Donald Trump was up at 49 percent, followed by former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis at nine and eight percent, respectively.
Tying together the presidential and gubernatorial races, Kimball warned against discounting the Trump factor in shaping the outcome of the governor’s race. “Particularly if Trump was to come in and endorse, let’s say, another candidate outside of Ayotte,” Kimball suggested, “that could be a game changer within the Republican primary.”
And with large chunks of the primary and general electorates still undecided, Emerson’s poll showed there was certainly room for the races to evolve.
The Emerson College Polling New Hampshire survey was conducted August 9-11, with a sample of 837 registered voters and a margin of error of +/- 3.4 percent.