- Associated Press - Saturday, October 22, 2016

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - Republicans were so united in New Hampshire in 2008, there was a nickname for the top-of-the-ticket candidates: “the J team.” Not only did all five candidates for president, Congress and governor have first names that started with that letter, they all backed each other, appearing together at rallies and cheering each other on.

That teamwork is noticeably absent this year. While Democrats appear to be taking presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s slogan “Stronger Together” quite literally, it’s more “every man for himself” on the GOP side.

“This election is very different - it’s one of the first times when the candidates will not stand on the stage together,” said Neil Levesque, director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at St. Anselm College. “It’s a disunified party at the voter level, too. Many voters are unhappy with the Republican presidential nominee, and it remains to be seen whether that will affect down-ballot voting.”

After months of carefully supporting but yet not endorsing Donald Trump, U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte recently said she won’t vote for her party’s presidential nominee over his 2005 comments about using fame to force himself on women.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Frank Guinta and gubernatorial candidate Chris Sununu are still backing Trump, but they haven’t always backed each other. Both Sununu and Ayotte were among Republicans calling on Guinta to resign last year after the Federal Election Commission found he had accepted illegal campaign donations from his parents, though Sununu has since said he supports Guinta “100 percent.”

Democrats, in contrast, are unified at all levels - voters, candidates, message and discipline, Levesque said. And the most recent WMUR Granite State Poll shows Clinton leading Trump, Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan leading Ayotte in the Senate race and Democrat Colin Van Ostern with a slight lead over Sununu.

“This year, the Republicans have an ‘F team,’ F for failed,” said Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley. “But the reality is, even without Donald Trump ripping apart the Republican Party, we have built a strong, vibrant, grassroots organization in every county. … That sort of ground operation is going to make a big difference.”

New Hampshire is no stranger to split-ticket voting, however. Though Democrats swept the top seats in the last two presidential elections (including the year of the “J team”), voters were split in the three previous cycles.

In 1996, New Hampshire picked Democrats Bill Clinton and Jeanne Shaheen as president and governor, respectively, while Republicans won the U.S. Senate and two U.S. House seats. In 2000, the state stuck with Shaheen but went with Republicans for president and Congress. Four years later, Republicans again won the Senate and House seats, while the state went with Democrats for president and governor.

This year, Ayotte could end up getting a boost as Trump’s popularity falls, Levesque said.

“You have to be living under a rock right now to not have figured out that Hillary Clinton has a significant lead in this race, and if voters get a sense that she’s going to become president, they may see Ayotte as a check and balance,” he said.

Ayotte hasn’t explicitly made that argument, though her campaign promoted a recent Bloomberg Politics analysis that predicted more people would split their votes in New Hampshire than in other battleground states. As she campaigned in Claremont on Friday, several voters approached Ayotte and asked her about Trump, including one woman who said she supports Ayotte but disagreed with her decision to withdraw her support. Ayotte told her she wants people to vote their conscience.

“What I’m hearing from voters is they want someone who is going to represent new Hampshire, stand up for new Hampshire, no matter who’s in the oval office from either party and that’s what I’ve done,” she said in an interview later.

Republican Party Chairwoman Jennifer Horn - who was part of the 2008 “J team” when she ran for the 2nd District House seat - did not return a call seeking comment.


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