CONCORD, N.H. (AP) -- New Hampshire’s gubernatorial race in November could come down to which candidate voters believe will keep a decades-old Yankee pledge against income and sales taxes.
Democrat Maggie Hassan and Republican Ovide Lamontagne have taken the pledge. But Republicans have never let Democrats’ promises to keep GOP-created pledges stop them from warning voters those promises are false.
Andy Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, said taxes and the economy will be the top issues on voters minds. He said Lamontagne, a conservative Republican, will have an easier time persuading voters he will honor the promise.
"That will be the thing Republicans focus on despite Hassan taking the pledge," Smith said Wednesday. "That tax issue is a potent one to make. There is still generally an anti-tax sentiment in this state."
At his victory party Tuesday night, Lamontagne hit on that theme, calling Hassan a liberal politician with a record of raising taxes, increasing spending and "supporting programs and regulations which kill jobs, drive businesses out of state and put government in charge of our economy and our lives."
"Voters will hear that Senator Hassan was open to an income tax in the past and, given her propensity towards higher government spending, it is not credible to believe she won’t be in the future. Her current position is election year posturing, not
Hassan has said she decided to take the pledge after talking to voters and learning how devastating the taxes would be to families. She beat two primary opponents who refused to take the pledge.
In her victory speech, Hassan painted Lamontagne as too conservative for New Hampshire. She labeled him as a self-proclaimed darling of the tea party, someone who would cut government too deeply and would restrict individual freedoms to form unions, obtain birth control, get an abortion and marry a same-sex partner.
"Let me be very clear, I will veto an income or sales tax," she said more than once.
The two take different approaches to helping boost the economy.
Hassan proposes restoring some or all of the $84 million aid cut to the University System of New Hampshire in the last two-year budget. In exchange, she wants tuition frozen to ease the burden on families and students. She believes that will mean more trained workers will be available for New Hampshire businesses. She would continue a job training program started under retiring Democratic Gov. John Lynch and double a research and development business tax credit.
"There is a clear choice in this election. I will move New Hampshire forward with an innovation plan that will help New Hampshire grow," she said.
Lamontagne proposes reducing the state’s tax on business profits from 8.5 percent to 8 percent over two years at an estimated cost of $27 million in lost revenue. Lamontagne would enact a credit against the business enterprise tax based on compensation paid to new full-time employees in new production or manufacturing jobs. He also would enact a credit against the business enterprise tax based on helping employees pay off student loans. He also would make other tax changes aimed at easing regulations.
"My prosperity agenda, based on fiscal responsibility, limited government, and creating an environment in which job creators and entrepreneurs can flourish, represents an exciting new direction for New Hampshire, relying on free enterprise not government entitlementism," he said.
Hassan, 54, is a former Senate majority leader and business attorney from Exeter. She lost her re-election bid to the Senate in a Republican sweep in 2010.
Lamontagne, 54, is a business attorney from Manchester and past chairman of the state board of education. This is his second try for governor. He lost to Democrat Jeanne Shaheen, now a U.S. senator, in 1996. He also lost primary races for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1992 and the U.S. Senate in 2010.
Shaheen is the only person to win the governor’s seat and refuse to take the tax pledge since the 1950s. She refused to take the pledge in her campaign for a third term in 2000.
Lynch’s retirement leaves the seat open for the first time in a decade. New Hampshire is considered a swing state, though it veered conservative in the 2010 election, and both major parties feel they have a good shot at the office.
Smith believes the close presidential race between Republican Mitt Romney and Democratic President Barack Obama will have a major influence on the Lamontagne-Hassan matchup.
"The top of the ticket in a presidential year drives so much of what happens. People tend to vote straight ticket," he said.