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Sunday, June 15, 2014

NH districts where Democrats, Republicans have chance to turn tide

Kevin Landrigan

The filing period has come and gone, and already parts of a vaunted conservative effort to throw out Republican incumbents in the state Senate has fallen flat.

The Republican Liberty Caucus came out of the gates hard this spring, putting all those GOP senators who had supported Medicaid expansion squarely in their sights. ...

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The filing period has come and gone, and already parts of a vaunted conservative effort to throw out Republican incumbents in the state Senate has fallen flat.

The Republican Liberty Caucus came out of the gates hard this spring, putting all those GOP senators who had supported Medicaid expansion squarely in their sights.

While its leaders chortled about fielding hopefuls for as many as 20 of the 24 Senate seats, they came up short in finding anyone to run against the two most powerful Republicans in the Statehouse – Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, and Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro.

Caucus President Aaron Day is new at New Hampshire ground-game politics, so he can be forgiven for that.

The reality is this kind of campaign works best when it’s surgical and not scattershot.

With the Senate standing at 13 Republicans and 11 Democrats, both state party leaders understand that winning on Election Day isn’t about marshaling limited resources in all 24 districts, but in the two to four where you can have the best chance of knocking a party out of office.

So at this early stage, which races are those?

Democrats: Their best hopes lie in District 8, where New London Republican Bob Odell is retiring, and District 23, where Kingston Republican Russell Prescott is seeking a fifth term.

The Democrats have veteran House members running in both races.

In District 8, Sunapee Rep. Linda Tanner is in the hunt to face the winner of former state banking executive Jerry Little versus state GOP Vice Chairman J.P. Marzullo.

In District 23, they have three-term Exeter Rep. Donna Schlachman.

The third best chance for Democrats is in District 6, where there’s a rematch between Sen. Sam Cataldo, R-Farmington, and New Durham Democrat Richard Leonard.

In 2012, Leonard got a late start in his campaign and still lost by only 500 votes.

Republicans: The GOP’s challenge is tougher because while the Senate redistricting in 2011 created a built-in GOP minority, it also created about 10 Senate districts that are solidly Democratic.

The best shot appears to be in District 12, where Hollis Democratic Sen. Peggy Gilmour is going for a third term.

This GOP primary features two who have represented Nashua in the House: current three-term Rep. Michael McCarthy, of Nashua, and former Rep. Kevin Avard.

It’s worth noting that Gilmour has raised much more in this race than she did two years ago, when she smoked then-Sen. Jim Luther, of Hollis, by 3,100 votes.

Then there’s District 7, where Laconia Democratic Rep. Andrew Hosmer will go for a second term.

He goes up against Franklin Republican Kathleen Lauer-Rago, a former one-term House member who’s an energetic GOP activist.

Negative influences

The state chapter of Americans for Prosperity showed how to focus like a laser in primary politics with two hard-hitting mailers last week.

The mail went after Republican incumbent Sens. Dave Boutin, of Manchester, and Nancy Stiles, of Hampton, for their support for raising the gas tax and expanding Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

Boutin had signed AFP’s campaign pledge in 2010 to oppose all tax increases.

“Senator Dave Boutin broke his pledge with the New Hampshire taxpayers,” the mailer states.

In an uncoordinated fashion, Citizens for a Strong New Hampshire did the same thing last week, with two pieces of negative mail going after Boutin and Stiles.

Both face primary challenges – Boutin from state Rep. Jane Cormier, R-Alton, who recently moved to Hooksett, and Stiles from Hampton businessman Steve Kenda.

Getting back in the game

Former state Sen. Tom Stawasz is pursuing a political comeback, of sorts.

Stawasz filed the first papers necessary to become an independent candidate in the general election for the District 5 seat on the Executive Council.

Nashua Democrat Debora Pignatelli is retiring, and that primary attracted two candidates: Nashua Alderman Diane Sheehan and former state Rep. Jennifer Daler, of Temple.

Former Councilor Dave Wheeler, R-Milford, is looking to return to the seat that Pignatelli took away from him two years ago, but he first must get past GOP primary foe Steve Hattamer, a physician and department head at Southern New Hampshire Medical Center.

Stawasz said one of his pet peeves for running would be to establish operating rules for the council.

While in the Senate, Stawasz served as chairman of its rules committee.

“Former Governor John Lynch once voted to block the council from having a hearing on a pardon request,” Stawasz said. “I see nothing in the Constitution or state laws that allows the governor to do that, but nobody on the council called him on it.

Stawasz has until mid-August to collect signatures from 750 voters to get his name on the November ballot.

“I should be able to do that pretty easily; it’s two or three days at the town dump,” Stawasz quipped.

Never too early

The race for speaker of the House of Representatives is getting heavy already.

As expected, House Majority Leader Steve Shurtleff, D-Concord, kicked off his campaign with a few supporters at his side.

Shurtleff said about 70 House Democrats have committed their support for him.

“We will keep moving forward with a Democratic majority in the House,” he said. “We will not accept a return to the harmful policies of the previous Legislature. Our human and economic infrastructure suffered too much.”

Shurtleff has the Democratic race to himself for now, though former Rep. Jackie Cilley, D-Barrington, is expected to run if she wins back a seat.

Cilley left in 2012 to run for governor, losing her primary to the person who would win the governorship, Maggie Hassan.

On the GOP side, there’s former House Speaker Bill O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon; House Republican Leader Gene Chandler, R-Bartlett; and Rep. Laurie Sanborn, R-Bedford, who have declared they’re in the running.

Why would they get into the race now?

Because there is typically a one-third turnover in the 400-person House, and these folks all need to show their cards and come out in order to recruit the new candidates for their support.

Having fun fundraising

Hassan hosted fundraisers in the last two weeks in Maryland and Washington, D.C.

And every week in April and May seemed to be taken up with a fundraiser for one state Senate incumbent or another.

There’s a reason for the flurry of fundraising, and it isn’t just because it’s easier to get lobbyists to show up when the Legislature is in session.

This is one of the nuances of our byzantine state election laws.

Under current law, candidates who do not agree to the state’s voluntary campaign spending limits –
such as Hassan, Republican Walt Havenstein and most Senate incumbents in both parties – are able to raise up to $5,000 from an individual or corporation right up until the day they come in and sign up.

Once they do, however, and sign the campaign spending statement, they can only receive donations up to $1,000 apiece.

Now you know.

Kevin Landrigan can reached at
321-7040 or klandrigan@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Landrigan on Twitter (@Klandrigan).