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N.H. breaks from its GOP roots

Bass, a six-term Republican, ousted in New Hampshire US House race

CONCORD, N.H. -- Democrats defeated two incumbent Republican congressman yesterday and the state's Democratic governor set a record in his margin of victory, in what analysts called one of the most historic elections in New Hampshire history.

In a closely watched House contest, Paul Hodes defeated six-term incumbent Charlie Bass in the Second Congressional District. With 89 percent of the precincts reporting, Hodes led Bass 54 percent to 45 percent.

In his concession speech, Bass said "not one minute of my 12 years in Washington has been wasted." Hodes told his supporters, "It is a great night to be a Democrat in New Hampshire."

Perhaps the bigger upset was in the First Congressional District, where first-time candidate Carol Shea-Porter defeated two-term incumbent Jeb Bradley 52 to 48 percent, with 96 percent reporting. Shea-Porter will be the first woman to represent New Hampshire in Congress.

"What we saw in New Hampshire was a political earthquake where the landscape will never look the same," said Dante Scala, a professor at Saint Anselm College.

In Vermont, meanwhile, US Representative Bernie Sanders, an Independent, defeated Republican Richard Tarrant in an open seat for the US Senate there. Sanders is the first self-proclaimed socialist to serve in the Senate.

Peter Welch, a Democrat, beat Martha Rainville, a Republican, in the race to replace Sanders in the House.

The New Hampshire campaigns played out amid anti-Republican sentiment and demographic changes that have made the state more liberal. Voter turnout was reported to be strong, and for some parts of the state, turnout seemed to have rivaled the years of a presidential election.

The Hodes-Bass race was a rematch of the 2004 contest. In that race, Bass topped Hodes by 20 percentage points.

In the past two weeks, polls showed Hodes moving ahead of Bass. That prompted the national party's to dump $1.7 million into this race, largely to buy television advertising.

Hodes, 54, is an entertainment lawyer in Concord. His law partner is Bill Shaheen, the husband of former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen.

Bass was criticized by fellow Republicans for not taking this year's re-election seriously until the very end, something he even admitted last week.

Governor John Lynch was on track to win by the largest margin in a gubernatorial race in the state's history. With 91 percent of the precincts reporting early today, Lynch led Republican James Coburn 74 percent to 26 percent.

In another historic shift, the Democrats took over both the state Senate and the state House the first time since 1911.

Earlier in the day, the question for many was whether Lynch's popularity could translate into support for other Democrats in the state.

For Jeanne Detton of Derry, this meant changing her voting record to "mix it up a little" on her ballot yesterday.

"I usually vote all Republican, but this year it is different," Detton said. "I do like Lynch."

But Lynch's influence wasn't enough for Ira Burta of Salem, a Republican stronghold.

He said he had voted a straight ticket for Republicans, even though, he said, Bass isn't the perfect conservative.

"He is a good guy and a good Republican," Burta said. "Even with everything going on in the country, I still vote Republican."

At polling places around New Hampshire, voters said they had picked candidates based on two key issues: taxes and the Iraq war.

In Manchester, the state's largest city, two voters who said they had supported Bradley in the past said that they would back Shea-Porter because of the war.

"I like Bradley a lot and I think he does a great job helping his constituents," said Judy Kelley-Gola, a lawyer. "It's nothing personal against Bradley, but I cannot vote for a Republican to Congress. Not this year."

Jim Bernier of Manchester, a former youth sports coach who has watched as many of his former players were deployed to Iraq, echoed that sentiment.

"I am voting to send a message about Iraq," Bernier said. "We need a plan."

The election came at an important time for New Hampshire . Political scientists were looking for signs that the midterm elections could be a bellwether for the state, shedding its Republican past.

A University of New Hampshire pollster, Andy Smith, said that along with the strong population growth, the state has experienced a surge in independent and Democratic voters.

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