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Campaign signs in Mont Vernon Monday, May 16, 2011.
Monday, May 9, 2011

Analysts: ‘Don’t read too much’ into District 4 special election

EDITOR’S NOTE: This analysis of Tuesday’s special election in District 4 ran in the Telegraph on May 9.

Political passions may be running high across the state, but analysts say a special election scheduled for May 17 in the Souhegan Valley is no temperature gauge.

The May 17 election for a seat in the state House of Representatives pits Temple Democrat Jennifer Daler against New Boston Republican Peter Kucmas in Hillsborough County’s 4th District.

It is among the first elections since Republicans swept into power in November, taking control of the N.H. House and Senate by wide margins.

But despite statewide debate over budget cuts and other controversial measures, the election is not likely to reflect many voter trends, according to political analysts.

“There’s always the potential that these kinds of special elections can be seen as a bellwether, but I’m always careful not to read too much into them,” said Dean Spiliotes, a political science professor at Southern New Hampshire University.

“These races can be so localized, they involve local personalities,” he said this week. “There are a lot of factors that drive them.”

The Hillsborough County 4th District covers Lyndeborough, Mont Vernon, New Boston, Temple and Wilton, and has traditionally been a Republican stronghold. The Grand Old Party holds the three other representative seats in the district, including that of House Speaker William O’Brien, of Mont Vernon.

O’Brien has taken an active role in the race, campaigning for Kucmas to replace former state Rep. Robert Mead, a friend of O’Brien’s who left the seat open when he resigned last year to serve as the speaker’s chief of staff.

“The importance of making sure that Peter is elected is that the voters last November gave a clear indication that they want a fiscally responsive government and a government that’s attentive to liberty concerns,” O’Brien said this week. “Peter has both of those.”

But local Democrats are optimistic they can retake the seat due to the changing political landscape, as well as Daler’s name recognition.

Daler, who does direct care work with the developmentally disabled, served one term as a state representative in the district, from 2006 to 2008, but lost her re-election bid in 2008.

Both she and Kucmas, who works as a technical engineer for a gas supply firm, ran but fell short in the 2010 elections.

“We run into a lot of awful people that are horribly dismayed with what’s happening in the House of Representatives,” said Peter Von Sneidern, chairman of the Temple Democratic Town Committee. “They’re running a lot of the more moderate thinkers right off the road.

“(Jennifer) is very much a moderate,” Von Sneidern said. “She takes it very seriously. ... I think the voters will see that.”

Even if Daler returns to the Statehouse, however, the small number of voters likely to take part in the election will reflect local concerns more than any widespread sentiment, according to Andrew Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center.

Typically, fewer than 10 or 15 percent of voters turn out for local special elections, Smith said last week, leaving the results in the hands of several thousand people.

“If you get a high turnout, 50 percent, then maybe you could take something from it,” he said. “But, generally, I would be kind of cautious about reading anything (into it) one way or the other into it.

“(These elections) usually turn on local factors,” he said. “But in this case, it’s not even so much the local factors. It’s who shows up, if anybody shows up.”

Staff writer Kevin Landrigan contributed to this report. Jake Berry can be reached at 594-6402 or