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In tight presidential race, New Hampshire's got game

New Hampshire may have only four votes to contribute to the Electoral College, but—as a measure of how tightly contested this year's presidential race is—those votes are expected to be pivotal in determining who is elected president on Nov. 6.

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 Dora Hill, president of the AFT-NH Barnstead Educational Support Team, passes a young supporter to the president, as he greets the crowd after a campaign rally at Elm Street Middle School in Nashua.

Dora Hill, president of the AFT-NH Barnstead Educational Support Team, passes a young supporter to the president, as he greets the crowd after a campaign rally at Elm Street Middle School in Nashua.

That fact does not escape AFT-New Hampshire volunteers, who are stepping up their get-out-the-vote game. With other union activists, they are knocking on doors, stuffing envelopes, making phone calls, turning out for rallies, and talking to friends, family and neighbors to make sure the federation's 4,000 members vote and bring others to the polls too.

"I am totally committed to giving President Obama four more years," says AFT-NH retiree Barbara Newton, who volunteers at least two days a week. "I think he's really turned this country around, given a very difficult economy. And he's been measured and deliberate on foreign policy."

One difference between New Hampshire and the other battleground states, notes AFT-NH president Laura Hainey, is that while same-day registration is allowed, there is no early voting, so GOTV focuses on high turnout and well-informed voters.

The last weeks of October, before the devastation of Superstorm Sandy claimed the president's attention, saw visits from Vice President Joe Biden, Jill Biden and the president. In Manchester on Oct. 18, Obama laid out his five-point plan to keep the economy on a steady course to recovery. And in Nashua on Oct. 27, Obama addressed educators and working families at Elm Street Middle School. The president swings through the state again on Nov. 3.

Another battleground in New Hampshire is the Legislature, which turned tea-party red two years ago. Toxic bills soon followed. It was only through the heightened activism of AFT-NH and other unions, and the veto power of a progressive Democrat, Gov. John Lynch, that rights and freedoms for residents in the "Live Free or Die" state were protected.

Gov. Lynch is retiring. Activists are working to elect Democratic candidate Maggie Hassan, a former Majority Leader of the state Senate, as his replacement. Her opponent is a tea partyer against women's reproductive rights, the state's popular marriage equality law, mandatory kindergarten, and collective bargaining rights for workers, and has boasted that he "will be Scott Walker on steroids." Hassan, who is from a family of educators, supports investing in education and innovation to boost the state's economy. She is a champion of women's rights. The contest between the two is as close as that between President Obama and Mitt Romney.

In a state that lacks demographic diversity—97 percent of the population is white—progressives are looking to another key voting block to make a difference on Election Day: women. As U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen said when she introduced Obama in Nashua, "You know, here in the Granite State, we don't need binders full of women. We've got ballots full of women!"

AFT-NH has endorsed and is working hard to elect incumbent Carol Shea-Porter and Annie Kuster to the U.S. House of Representatives—as well as more than 200 other candidates for state offices. The federation has mailed sample ballots to each of its members indicating every endorsed candidate.

The week before the election, AFT-NH's members had the opportunity to participate in a town hall teleconference with the major candidates. It featured Maggie Hassan, Carol Shea-Porter, AFT-NH president Laura Hainey and AFT president Randi Weingarten.

Weingarten responded to a recent Good Housekeeping interview with Ann Romney, who said the issue closest to her heart is throwing out the public education system and the teachers unions. Urging New Hampshire educators to get to the polls and vote for Obama, Weingarten asked, "How do you have a country that supports the American dream, when the people who work for the kids are the ones you want to get rid of?"

"Everything is at stake in this election," says Hainey. [Barbara McKenna/photo by REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst]
 

November 2, 2012