- Associated Press - Sunday, November 6, 2016

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - As chairman of Dartmouth College’s government department, Dean Lacy naturally has an academic interest in the tight U.S. Senate race between Republican incumbent Kelly Ayotte and her Democratic challenger, Gov. Maggie Hassan. He’s also watching it play out in his own family.

“I have two daughters who will be voting in their first election. They are getting a lot of phone calls and mail - from both camps,” he said.

Lacy sees single women as one of the key groups that could determine the outcome of the race, which itself will help determine which political party controls the Senate. His young daughters are getting more mail and receiving more phone calls than he is, he said.

“I think the smaller groups do matter. This is an election where a lot of GOP-leaning voters seem to be skeptical about their presidential nominee and are potentially up for grabs,” he said.

A look at some of those groups and which candidates need them most:



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WOMEN

Andrew Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, agrees with Lacy that women are a powerful demographic in the race. Democrats have done extremely well among New Hampshire women in the last few decades, he said, in part because they’ve made a conscious decision to run female candidates.

“That’s a smart strategy when there are more female than male voters in the state, and they are much more likely to vote Democrat, so you recruit women candidates and you get a two-for almost out of that,” he said. “That I think is really the focus for the Democrats. If they get high turnout among women, they’ll do quite well.”

Smith’s latest Granite State poll shows Hassan leading Ayotte among unmarried woman by a more than 2:1 margin, though they are tied among married women.

“The thing with Ayotte that’s different than other election years is that because she’s a woman, it’s harder to run the war on women campaign against her,” Smith said. “She’s not inoculated completely, but somewhat.”

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BUSINESS REPUBLICANS

In past years, New Hampshire voters with four-year college degrees tended to support Republicans, but that has changed, Smith said. In his latest poll, Ayotte leads Hassan among voters with technical school graduates, those with some college experience and those with high school educations or less. Hassan leads among those with four-year college degrees and those with advanced degrees.

“I think that’s largely because the college-educated Republicans - the ‘business Republicans’ -who have been the mainstay of the Republican party in the state, they didn’t like (Republican presidential nominee Donald) Trump at all,” Smith said.

To win, Ayotte has to pull back those college-educated men and women who’ve supported Republicans in the past, Smith said. That could be a challenge given Ayotte’s complicated relationship with Trump. She supported him for months but didn’t endorse him, called him a role model for children but then took it back, and finally said she would write in vice presidential nominee Mike Pence instead after the release of 2005 recordings in which Trump bragged about forcing himself on women.

Lacy doesn’t think the Trump factor will hurt Ayotte, though he expects Hassan will continue to emphasize it in the campaign’s final days.

“I think she’s probably effectively distanced herself from Trump at this stage,” he said. “I’m sure Hassan will run more ads reminding voters, but it’s probably enough in the past that it won’t matter much to these late-deciding voters,” he said.

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BLUE COLLAR REPUBLICANS

The flip side to Ayotte’s challenge of bringing back those business Republicans is that the GOP in New Hampshire is becoming increasingly blue-collar, Smith said, and many voters in that group have been energized by Trump.

“A lot of those folks haven’t voted in the past or they didn’t vote at typical levels,” he said. “I think Republicans may have one hidden advantage in that the people who are hardest for them to turn out, which are the blue collar men, seem to be quite motivated by Donald Trump.”

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YOUNG AND OLD

While Democrats typically have done well among young voters, the latest UNH Survey Center poll shows Ayotte leading Hassan 43 percent to 38 percent among those ages 18 to 34.

“The people who are hardest for Democrats to turn out - younger voters - are not very excited about this race,” Smith said. “They were the ones that were supporting Bernie Sanders (in the Democratic presidential primary), and they really haven’t come around as much as you saw in previous elections.

At the opposite end of the age spectrum, Hassan has a significant lead over Ayotte among voters age 65 and older, which Lacy said is surprising.

Ayotte should be doing better among seniors,” he said.

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