Nov 14, 2014 12:34 AM

Paul Steinhauser: How Jeanne Shaheen did what other Democratic incumbents senators could not

NH1 Political Director -

CONCORD - "Thank you New Hampshire," Sen. Jeanne Shaheen said to applause, just before Midnight on Election Night.

And the Democratic incumbent had plenty to be thankful.

Shaheen did something that four other Democratic senators in red or purple states could not do last week. Shaheen was re-elected. The number could rise from four to five next month if Sen. Mary Landrieu loses her runoff in Louisiana.

According to exit polls, Shaheen won female voters by a whopping 19-percentage points over Scott Brown, her Republican challenger. She also beat Brown among voters 65 and older, a group that tends to back GOP candidates. And she slightly edged the former senator from Massachusetts among crucial independent voters, who made up 45% of the electorate in New Hampshire on Election Day.

So how'd she do it?

She gave a clue in her victory speech, saying "tonight the people of New Hampshire chose to put New Hampshire first."

And that was the strategy of her campaign, keeping it all about her record and all about New Hampshire.

In an interview with NH1, Shaheen campaign manager Mike Vlacich said "we started off the campaign focusing on the greatest asset that we had, which was Sen. Shaheen and her record for New Hampshire. And we started off with a very clear message around the record of delivering for New Hampshire and on jobs and the economy. Our first ads were about small businesses and then we talked about the senator's record on a number of aspects of New Hampshire life that are very important, like veterans issues, and we grew to that out to focus on her constituent service work and her record on delivering for different parts of the state."

Vlacich, the senator's state director before moving over to run her re-election bid earlier this year, said the campaign's message was all about putting the Granite State first.

"It was a consistency in message. It wasn't a glamorous message, it wasn't necessarily the most exciting message, but it was what was on the minds of almost every group of New Hampshire life. Republicans, Democrats, seniors, women, they were all unified an interest in the candidates' approach on jobs and the economy and so we really tried to stay close to that and focus on that," Vlacich added.

99 percent

Like Republican challengers across the country, Brown continuously linked Shaheen the President Barack Obama. Brown never missed an opportunity from the late summer through Election Day to remind voters that Shaheen voted with the President 99 percent of the time.

How did Shaheen fight back?

"We knew that 99% was probably one of the more challenging arguments that we were going to face, and so that''s why you saw us focus on a record of delivering for New Hampshire and not us running away from her record as a senator or governor and explaining it in a way that people from New Hampshire could understand had a direct impact on their lives," Vlacich said.

And defining herself before the opposition had a chance define her also helped.

"We decided to go up on television and started a field operation in early to mid-spring, and by doing that and not allowing our opponents to define us early, was very important," Vlacich added.

The Shaheen campaign also went on the offense against Brown, which included his move at the end of last year from Massachusetts to New Hampshire.

"Our core argument about Sen. Brown was an economic values argument, Kadant (a Massachusetts-based company, which Brown sat on the board of directors, that outsourced jobs to China and Mexico), the big oil and Wall Street and ultimately who's side are you on. Now we used the reality that he had moved here from another state and we were trying to raise the question of who is he and who is he going to be working for as part of it, but we really did try to stay very focused on this core economic values argument of who's side is he on and who's side is Jeanne Shaheen on."

Sullivan County

The Shaheen campaign quickly monopolized on the most talked about moment of the final televised debate, less than a week before the midterms, when both candidates were asked a question about the economic conditions in Sullivan County. Even though the panelist who asked the question, WMUR's James Pindell, later apologized to Brown after correcting him during the debate on the location of the county, which is along the state's border with Vermont, the Shaheen campaign was quick to send the senator to Claremont the next day.

"We did go to Claremont right away and we went up there and we didn't make this about geography, you'll notice that. We made it again about who will be on the side of Sullivan County and side of New Hampshire. Who do you trust to do that more. And certainly it was a nice way to set the tone for the final days of the campaign. It was helpful. It was a high profile way to draw attention to us, by going to Claremont first. The fact that we decided right away that night, we're going to Claremont, was good. Plus that was an area of the state that the senator feels very comfortable in talking about her role in growing the economy," said Vlacich.

Ground Game

In the end, just as it is with every close contest, it all came down to the ground game. According to exit polls, Democrats made up 28 percent of the electorate in New Hampshire, compared to 27 percent for Republicans. That's opposite the nation average, where Republican voters were up by a percentage point.

Vlacich said Shaheen's message appealed to independents but also excited the Democratic base.

"Democrats needed a reason to come to the polls and Jeanne Shaheen did not run away from her record and who she was as a U.S. senator. So you had a base in the Democratic Party that wanted to come vote for her and you had people that came out to vote who normally don't vote in midterms because I think they were very interested in this race, and so that helped. And we did have a very excellent field operation," Vlacich said.

"I think a lot of that was having built our field operation basically early this year," he added. "We were able to increase same day voter registration and boost overall turnout with good message and good tradition New Hampshire field tactics. It was very targeted, in terms of, we knew who the likely voters were and we engaged them very frequently from the spring all the way through the summer into the fall."

Help from Hillary

Two days before the election, Shaheen and Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, who was also up for re-election, were joined on the same stage in Nashua by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

"With Hillary we were able to use it as momentum where we had two days of good press that came from that in three critical media markets: Nassau, Manchester, and Strafford County/Sea Coast. It was exactly what we had hoped for, to have Hillary help make the closing argument to voters, and it was very helpful. And it wasn't just the press benefit. It was the GOTV volunteer recruitment benefit that we got too," Vlacich said.

Vlacich was aided during the campaign by communications director Harrell Kirstein, who came over from the state party in the spring. And Shaheen's DC-based communications director, Shripal Shah, took a two month sabbatical and moved to Manchester to assist the campaign during the stretch run. But while Shaheen thanked her entire campaign on Election Night, she gave a special shout out to Vlacich.

"I also have to thank my spectacular campaign manager Mike Vlacich....boy, did he run a great operation," Shaheen said, as Vlacich came to the stage to hug the candidate.

Asked about that moment, Vlacich paused for a moment before answering.

"She's is one the most people I know, never mind the most decent political I've ever known. And the person you see in public is exactly the person you see behind the scenes. She is a thoughtful person. She cares for her staff and you see how deeply she cares for the people she serves and you wish that there were more people like her in politics."


--  Dealing with the Disease of Addiction? Click here for help --

More from

NH1 News Debates
NH1 News Replay

NH1 on Twitter

NH1 SkyView Cameras

NH1 on Facebook

Check out NH1 News Rail Polls on LockerDome on LockerDome