Kelly Ayotte will begin the general election in New Hampshire with a small lead over Paul Hodes, 47-43. Although she remains the favorite in the race it's clear that the divisive primary has her in a much weaker position than 5 months ago and that this contest may be more competitive than has generally been accepted.
When PPP first polled New Hampshire in April Ayotte had a 34/24 favorability rating. The number of voters with a positive opinion of her now is basically the same as it was then at 35%. But her negatives have nearly doubled from 24% to 47%. What were once good numbers with independents at 35/23 have now gone sour to 34/44. And while earlier in the year she had an unusual level of popularity across party lines at 20% that's now declined to 11%.
The competitiveness of her primary forced Ayotte to do things she might have been able to get away with skipping if she'd had an easier path to the nomination. For instance her Sarah Palin endorsement proved critical in surviving with a small victory last night, but 52% of general election voters say Palin's support is a turn off with only 18% of them saying it's a positive. Her having to move to the right in the primary has already hurt her overall image with New Hampshire voters and could prove to become even more of a liability in the general election.
The good news for Ayotte is that Hodes isn't particularly popular either. His favorability numbers are nearly identical to hers with 35% of voters seeing him positively to 46% with a negative opinion.
Looking at their head to head match up both candidates pretty much have their party base locked up and Ayotte's breaking the tie with a strong advantage among independents. Hodes is getting 85% of Democrats while Ayotte's getting 83% of Republicans. She's up 51-37 with those independents.
Although many Democrats were rooting for Ovide Lamontagne to win the nomination, perceiving him as the weaker general election candidate, this poll found there was little difference between him and Ayotte against Hodes. Lamontagne would have started out with a 47-44 lead. 36% of voters had a favorable opinion of him by the end of his campaign to 33% with an unfavorable one, giving him basically the same level of goodwill as Ayotte with much lower negatives. All in all it was probably a wash for the general election who emerged from this primary.
One final note: New Hampshire is one state where Democrats are having to cope with a considerable enthusiasm gap. Barack Obama won New Hampshire by 9 points but those planning to vote this fall report having split their voters evenly in 2008, an indication that Republican voters are planning to come back out at a much higher rate than Democrats. If the 2010 electorate matched who turned out in 2008 we find Hodes would lead Ayotte 48-43. If Hodes can get the Democratic base better motivated in these final seven weeks it's going to be a very close race.
Full results here