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Sunday, April 28, 2013

Issues arise  a little early

Kevin Landrigan

Isn’t it a little early to be confidently assessing prospects for the 2016 presidential primary in New Hampshire?

For pundits, pollsters and political junkies, of which there are many in this first-in-the-nation state, it’s never too early. ...

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Isn’t it a little early to be confidently assessing prospects for the 2016 presidential primary in New Hampshire?

For pundits, pollsters and political junkies, of which there are many in this first-in-the-nation state, it’s never too early.

But one thing is clear. You can’t draw any big sweeping conclusions from the horse race survey done last week by Public Policy Polling.

It’s no surprise that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the 2008 New Hampshire primary winner, would lead all comers to replace President Barack Obama. But the spread over Vice President Joe Biden, 68 percent to 12 percent, seems inflated .

Keep in mind, however, Biden has run for president twice before and never done better than fifth here.

If she runs – and I’m one who doesn’t accept that it’s a given – it’s hard to see how Clinton will not be the favorite.

The GOP battle is even more fascinating, even though we’re two years away from these folks even setting up exploratory campaigns.

Here’s why: This could be the first Republican presidential primary in a generation in which the party establishment fails to coalesce behind an anointed choice.

George H. Bush. Bob Dole. George W. Bush. John McCain. Mitt Romney. All of them were not only favorites going in, but the party elders had already decided before their campaigns began that victory was a divine right.

The consistently cantankerous New Hampshire voters don’t always accept that demand, which was why they chose Pat Buchanan over Dole in 1996 and McCain over George W. Bush in 2000.

But this one is super-wide-open, and could take more than a year for even tiers of hopefuls to emerge.

What are we to make of the leader, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, with 28 percent of the vote? He owes much of that to his dad, Texas Congressman Ron Paul.

It’s worth noting the younger Paul’s support in the survey was identical to the vote Paul received in the 2012 presidential primary here won by Romney.

Sure, Rand Paul has received some national publicity as an outspoken conservative, most notably in leading a filibuster against Obama’s nominee to the CIA. But his guest-of-honor appearance at a state GOP fundraiser next month will be the first visit here on the big stage.

Florida Sen. Mark Rubio’s second-place standing with 25 percent is interesting, as well. Rubio is a rising star in the party. His fundraising speech on behalf of 2012 gubernatorial nominee Ovide Lamontagne in Seabrook was one of Lamontagne’s best events of the campaign.

Then there’s New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, at 15 percent. Christie built up some good national publicity in his nonpartisan response to Hurricane Sandy and made two trips to the state on Lamontagne’s behalf.

Let the scramble begin.

Guns’ political influence

Is freshman U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., in free fall over her opposition to expanding criminal background checks to buy guns?

Credit the New Hampshire Democratic Party with weaving a pretty convincing narrative with the help of activists, supportive editorial writers and a friendly polling outfit.

Let’s not get carried away with this.

To their credit, the Dems mobilized opposition to Ayotte’s vote and produced a number of critical letters and emails to news media outlets.

Closing the so-called gun show loophole so that criminal background checks are required in all but person-to-person sales is popular among the electorate even with Republicans.

But the notion that Public Policy Polling’s survey found that Ayotte’s favorability dropped 15 points bears further scrutiny.

Those who liked her didn’t change beyond the poll’s margin of error, 44 percent to 46 percent last week.

It was the negative number that shot up, with 46 percent holding an unfavorable view compared with 35 percent earlier.

Fortunately, we have other data, and it doesn’t affirm PPP’s finding, to be sure.

The University of New Hampshire Survey Center has never been accused of being the favorite outlet of the New Hampshire Republican State Committee, but the UNH poll out last week didn’t find any slippage for Ayotte.

She was at 50 to 25 percent compared to 51 to 28 percent two months earlier. Keep in mind that the Democratic-leaning PPP had 2010 Democratic nominee Paul Hodes within four points of knocking off Ayotte just prior to that election.

Ayotte won by 23.

The PPP also gave Democrats a 6 percent advantage in respondents over identified Republicans, while actual party registration in the state has both parties close to a statistic tie.

This poll pushed up Democratic responders 9 percent compared with its last survey, in which Ayotte did much better.

You get the idea.

Now, has Ayotte’s vote created some vulnerability for someone who has otherwise led a pretty charmed life when it comes to public popularity? Sure.

But don’t look for her to change on this issue. Senate Republicans have already given their members a background check alternative for which they could vote, and they’ll offer more of the same in the coming months.

At this stage in her service, Ayotte has to be more worried about preventing a GOP primary challenge, and turning on this issue could get someone seriously thinking about it.

Hassan, Shaheen in lead

Gov. Maggie Hassan and U.S. Sen Jeanne Shaheen can’t rest easy, but both looked in pretty solid shape in last week’s PPP poll.

Hassan was over 50 percent against all comers, and the closest possible competitor was Executive Councilor Chris Sununu, of Newfields, who had 35 percent, to 51 percent for the incumbent.

Kevin Smith, of Litchfield, a 2012 candidate, trailed 52 percent to 32 percent.

Likewise, Shaheen’s support was over the magic majority number (50) against all potential candidates, with former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown doing best, at 41 percent.

More troubling for Brown was that 63 percent of those surveyed said they didn’t consider Brown a “New Hampshirite’’ even though he has owned property in Rye for years.

Brown’s political problem is he has not only represented the Bay State in Washington, but until this speculation began, he failed to do surrogate work in the state next door to demonstrate he had any affinity for this place.

RGGI by the numbers

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative survived a move to eliminate it two years ago and looks to get an enhancement this year.

The House of Representatives has already passed a bill that would nearly cut in half the number of carbon-based emissions that power plants could emit in the nine Northeastern states that have RGGI, including New Hampshire.

Supporters pursued this change (HB 306) because the higher emissions cap was so easy to reach, it drove down the cost of allowances that polluters had to buy.

The price for these allowances has already bounced back up on the expectation that states with RGGI would lower the cap.

A Senate committee has heard the bill, and word is that at least three GOP senators are onboard with it: President Peter Bragdon, R-Milford; Nancy Stiles, R-Hampton; and Robert Odell, R-Lempster.

One can assume all 11 Democrats will go along with this environmental change, so the bill is likely to head to Hassan, who would be expected to sign it.

As a compromise to keep RGGI in place in 2011, the cost of these allowances is no longer charged to the ratepayers, but in fact rebated to them.

The pending bill (HB 306) would extend that rebate to all ratepayers, and not simply those who buy their electricity from the “default supplier,” which is Public Service Co. of New Hampshire in most of the state.

Relief in Nashua

Nashua Mayor Donnalee Lozeau is on the verge of securing some property tax relief for her city and the 28 other communities served by Pennichuck Water Works.

Last week, the House Public Works and Highways Committee recommended approval of a Senate-passed bill dealing with who would pay when utility lines have to be moved for a state transportation project.

The law says if the utility is publicly owned, the state pays; if it’s a profit-making concern, then the utility and its customers pay.

State DOT officials reviewed that law and determined Pennichuck didn’t qualify for state reimbursement, since the private water company still operates the business, even though the city owns the assets.

Lozeau spoke to House committee members at a recent hearing and on an individual basis to explain why it didn’t make sense financially for Nashua to turn Pennichuck into a city water works department.

The amended bill would have the state pay in any case where the utility is owned “directly or indirectly” by the city or town.

Tax credit ruling

It won’t be too long before Strafford County Superior Court Judge John Lewis rules on the constitutional challenge to the education tax credit.

Even supporters of the credit are pessimistic about their chances of winning the case at this level, but confident the state Supreme Court will uphold the credits as not violating the ban on direct public aid to private or religious schools.

Meanwhile, we’ve learned a prominent Republican operative helped the effort to solicit tax credit donations, at least early on.

Email documents in the lawsuit confirmed that former GOP Executive Director Chuck McGee, a Spectrum Monthly executive, helped the Network for Education Opportunity prepare some of its marketing materials.

It isn’t shocking that New Hampshire Democratic leaders were critical of the group securing the services of McGee, who was convicted of charges for his role in the GOP phone jamming episode on Election Day 2002.

“Did Jeb Bradley and Andy Sanborn know their voucher attack on public schools was a taxpayer-funded payday for former NHGOP executive director and convicted felon Charles McGee when they defended it in the Senate last week?” Democratic Party communications director Harrell Kirstein responded in a statement.

This pitch from NEO also overstated its financial success, maintaining that $1 million in donations had already been committed.

NEO officials confirmed to state tax authorities less than a month ago that only $140,000 in donations had come in. They have maintained publicly that pledges for these tax credits are well in excess of that number, and they will show up before the June 15 deadline.

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