NORTH CONWAY, N.H. — Gail McClure isn’t just any Republican - she’s a Granite State Republican.
So, while she’s adamant about less federal spending and smaller government, she’s not as concerned about the gay marriage or abortion.
“I think the government needs to get their nose out of it - that decision belongs between the individual and the doctor,” the 67-year-old told The Washington Times at a recent house party for former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. “Getting married? I don’t have a big say one way or the other to be honest, and I have no problem with folks that are gay - none whatsoever.”
Mrs. McClure prefaced her remarks by saying she only spoke for herself, but history, on-the-ground evidence and polls suggest that her mindset is a pretty accurate reflection of the libertarian-leaning GOP electorate in New Hampshire, where pocketbook issues and the size and scope of government tend to trump the divisive cultural issues that play well elsewhere.
Andrew E. Smith, of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, said his polls have found that not only are likely GOP voters more pro-choice than the nation as a whole, they also aren’t up in arms over the state’s same-sex marriage, which passed in 2009.
“Social issues just don’t resonate with Republicans up here,” Mr. Smith said.
Asked if that sentiment was true, Steve Talarico, owner of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle dealership in Manchester, nodded his head and turned to the state’s official motto. “Live free or die - that’s New Hampshire,” the 56-year-old said. “That’s why I think a lot of the rest of the country looks to New Hampshire, being the first in the nation primary, because there is a certain old Yankee, pragmatic, common sense that is native to New Hampshire.”
In that way, New Hampshire is distinct from Iowa, where voters were forced to allow same-sex marriage after the state’s courts overturned a law banning it in 2009 and where the electorate that participates in the caucuses tends to be more ideologically rigid on social issues. In fact, the two states haven’t tapped the same candidate in a competitive nomination contest since 1976, when Gerald R. Ford emerged victorious in both places.
That political dynamic is defining the early innings of the GOP primary season, where the general consensus is the path to victory for the more socially conservative candidates in the field, including Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, starts in Iowa and the path to victory for their more moderate-minded counterparts, such as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, begins in New Hampshire.
But conservative powerbroker Ovide Lamontagne said that a candidate’s social record shouldn’t be taken for granted in New Hampshire because it plays an important role in building overall credibility and provides a sense of whether a candidate will stand their ground on controversial cultural issues.
“The significance of social issues in a New Hampshire primary isn’t that people are voting on those issues, but it has the ability to give you a glimpse into someone’s core values and beliefs,” said Mr. Lamontagne, a former U.S. Senate candidate.
So far, however, the election has focused in on the economic issues that drive New Hampshire voters to the polls and that gave birth to the like-minded tea party movement - trillion dollar deficits, a $14.3 trillion national debt and more than 9 percent unemployment rate.
“Even if there is a cross-section of different opinions on social issues, they are not pivotal, key items that will make or break the country,” said Jane Aitken, who runs the New Hampshire Tea Party Coalition. “There are people who will be arguing about these things all the time, but the things that are going to break the country are the things that we are all united on - national sovereignty, limited government, taxation, and fiscal sanity.”
Mr. Romney, Mrs. Bachmann and the other candidates knew this going into the recent debate in New Hampshire, where they briefed touched on their social records, while focusing on the sagging economy and the nation’s spending problem.
“This election will be about economics,” Mrs. Bachmann said. “It will be about how will we create jobs, how will we turn the economy around, how we will have a pro-growth economy … President Obama can’t tell that story. His report card right now has a big failing grade on it.”