GQR is proud to have been part of Maggie Hassan’s team since 2012, providing qualitative and quantitative research and strategic advice for Hassan's election and re-election as governor, and then for her 2016 Senate campaign.
In 2016, GQR’s research helped then-Governor Maggie Hassan narrowly defeat incumbent Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire, one of only two Democratic pickups in the U.S. Senate that year.
This race brought a unique set of challenges. Pitting a popular sitting Governor against a well-regarded incumbent Senator, the candidates were neck-and-neck throughout the year, with public polling consistently showing the race within the margin of error. The campaign was one of the most closely-contested, high-profile, and expensive elections of the cycle, attracting over $127 million in spending.
In addition, New Hampshire is a notoriously difficult place in which to conduct accurate survey research. With outdated voter file infrastructure, limited reachable younger voters, a large proportion of unaffiliated voters, and a saturated polling environment, many pollsters struggle to field surveys here.
Despite these challenges, GQR’s research helped the campaign address a number of critical objectives:
- Maintaining a positive message that reinforced the Governor’s record and agenda in the face of attacks;
- Developing a strategy to weaken Ayotte, a popular incumbent with strong credentials on national security and an image as a moderate lawmaker willing to work across party lines;
- Testing a number of frames to find the most credible case against Ayotte: one that explained her motivation for votes/actions in a way that weakened her support with key swing voters;
- Understanding the Trump dynamic and how it impacted the Senate contest, and if/how/when to use Trump in connection to Ayotte;
- Knowing which of a myriad of attacks—from national security to opioids to taxes to health care—to respond to, and how best to negate those attacks.
The Hassan campaign won by highlighting her record of standing up for the interests of New Hampshire as Governor, including leading the way to expand the state’s innovation economy, maintaining fiscal responsibility, and expanding opportunity for all Granite Staters. Hassan framed the election as a clear choice between a politician who sides with corporate special interests in Washington and a leader who sides with the people of New Hampshire.
The GQR team provided quantitative and qualitative research and strategic advice to help keep the campaign razor-focused on the core contrast between the candidates, making sure that every one of the campaign’s ads, press releases, and media decisions contributed to the messaging imperatives set forth early in the campaign. GQR closely tracked all paid communications to ensure that nothing got lost in the shuffle despite new attacks and ads nearly every day.
GQR’s research also deeply explored a complicated Ayotte-Trump relationship to help form a strategy that maximized it in October. Ayotte’s see-saw support and then disavowal of Trump both helped and hurt her with base and swing voters, and navigating the Hassan campaign’s response on this issue required nuanced research. In the end, the Hassan campaign framed the issue as being less about Ayotte’s support/non-support for Trump and more about what the politically calculating nature of her actions said about her character and motivation more broadly.
In the end, Hassan won by just 1,019 votes out of nearly 740,000 votes cast. Senator Hassan joined New Hampshire’s Senior Senator and fellow GQR client Jeanne Shaheen as the only two women in American history to be elected both governor and senator. Hassan will also serve as part of New Hampshire’s first all-female Democratic congressional delegation.