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Sunday, June 22, 2014

WMUR forum: Three winners, and looking for an NH champion

Kevin Landrigan

It’s rare when every participant in a political forum is a winner.

But that’s the postscript of the first joint event for the three Republicans for the U.S. Senate, to be broadcast on WMUR-TV at 10 a.m. Sunday. ...

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It’s rare when every participant in a political forum is a winner.

But that’s the postscript of the first joint event for the three Republicans for the U.S. Senate, to be broadcast on WMUR-TV at 10 a.m. Sunday.

The tight time frame and the able work of moderator Josh McElveen made it difficult for Scott Brown, Jim Rubens or Bob Smith to steal the show during the taping on Friday.

One was left wondering why Brown, the former Massachusetts senator who is the clear front-runner, had delayed one of these from coming off.

He did come across as the statesman, appropriately placed in the middle of the three in the WMUR studio watching as Rubens and Smith ping-ponged rhetorical bombs at him.

As the only one to have signed the GOP unity pledge, Brown opened and ended the encounter praising the field as “three good, principled men,” all of whom would do a better job, in his mind, than Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.

Brown emphasized that it’s the Democrats who want this primary to get nasty, adding a united Republican Party would be Shaheen’s “worst nightmare.”

Clearly, Smith and Rubens won by getting on the same stage with Brown and finally having the chance to open up on him.

But they scored in their own right, as well.

Smith had the most to gain as a former U.S. senator who hasn’t won an election in New Hampshire in 18 years and hasn’t really lived in the state for more than a decade.

“I am a principled conservative leader,” he said. “The facts are the facts. I am pro-gun, pro-life and anti-tax.”

Translation: Brown and Rubens aren’t anti-abortion, and Brown’s support for gun control measures have already been well documented in this race.

Smith picked up some statesmanship points of his own, scolding Rubens for trying to make Brown the bad guy for having served in the Senate at the dawn of the Veterans Affairs scandal over veterans not getting timely health care.

Anyone who spends half an hour with Rubens knows this is a candidate not built for sound bytes; his “fresh, bold solutions” are nine points long on some issues.

But in the main, Rubens gave more crisp answers to McElveen’s questions.

He also had the stinging quote of the entire affair.

“Scott, you voted for President Obama 70 percent of the time, and people are asking, Why did you come here?” Rubens said the first time he got the chance to speak.

“Did you move here because you couldn’t get elected in the state of

Actually, the biggest
winner was the Hearst Corp.-owned, Manchester-based ABC-TV affiliate.

Don’t look for a ton of substance, but the temperature of this already hot medium during this forum soars, which makes for entertaining TV.

(Not) making the grade

One would expect that any annual rating of the New Hampshire Legislature by the fiscally conservative, Koch Brothers-financed Americans for Prosperity isn’t going to go well for Democrats.

That would be the case again when the AFP puts its rankings out formally in the near future.

All 11 Democrats in the state Senate got grades of “F.” The best score among them was for Donna Soucy, D-Manchester, who came in at 33 percent.

What’s more noteworthy, however, was that two Senate Republicans got “F” and two got “D.”

Those who flunked were first-term Sen. Nancy Stiles, R-Hampton, and retiring Sen. Bob Odell, R-New London.

The two who were just a cut above that with “D’s” were Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, and Sen. David Boutin, R-Hooksett.

Bradley has no primary opponent, while Stiles and Boutin aren’t so lucky. Rep. Jane Cormier, R-Alton, is moving to Hooksett to take on Boutin, and North Hampton businessman Steve Kenda is taking on Stiles.

Seeing red

Was the Republican unity pledge that GOP State Chairwoman Jennifer Horn pursued a moderate Republican wing conspiracy to hand the Senate nomination to Brown?

That’s what Smith charged during the WMUR forum Friday.

“Senator Brown’s campaign has colluded with the Republican Party either in the preparation of that letter or to the desire of sending that letter out,” Smith said. “My sources are 100 percent impeccable.”

Brown slapped the claim down.

“That’s absolutely wrong,” Brown said.

He added later to reporters, “I don’t know what he’s talking about.”

Smith later vigorously stood behind his claim while declining to reveal who gave him the information.

“You wouldn’t give your anonymous sources up, would you?” Smith shot back at one news media member who pressed him on it.

Now, the unity pledge isn’t a new invention, and this seems an appropriate time for it, given this came at the close of the candidate filing period when the field of candidates officially would be known.

What really fried Smith, however, was Horn’s follow-up email to the campaign that questioned whether this meant Smith would launch a third-party candidacy if he lost or even endorsed Shaheen.

“I would never endorse Jeanne Shaheen, ever,” Smith huffed.

The third-party shot stings, too, since many in the New Hampshire GOP leadership will never forgive Smith for leaving the party and briefly mounting a Taxpayers Party bid for president in 2000.

This came after he had already committed the cardinal sin for a pol from the first-in-the-nation primary state: running in his own party for president.

After both fizzled, Smith returned to the GOP in order to snag the post-election chairmanship of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

All those actions had everything to do with Smith losing his bid for re-election in 2002 to then-Congressman John E. Sununu.

Now you understand why Horn’s second missive had Smith seeing red.

Money talks

Last week, we saw why the U.S. Senate race in New Hampshire really has taken on national importance.

This came in the form of a Shaheen email to supporters seeking donations, a timely one, since the latest quarterly reporting deadline is fast approaching on June 30.

“Here’s the stark truth about Scott Brown, the serial campaigner: he’s a former U.S. Senator who raised $44 million in his last two campaigns and is on track to be the best-funded candidate in New Hampshire history. If he wins, we’ve lost the Senate,” the email said.

During last week’s forum, Brown made the same point with his opening line.

“I think it will be the determination as to who controls the Senate,” Brown said of the New Hampshire race.

In summary, New Hampshire’s Senate race isn’t yet the most competitive, and certainly Shaheen isn’t the most vulnerable Democrat.

But if this really is a midterm Republican wave election, this race could be just the one that gives the GOP the net pickup of six seats it needs to turn Congress completely over to the Grand Olde Party.

Funding governorship

Republican gubernatorial candidate Walt Havenstein got a big lift Friday with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie coming to Manchester for a fundraiser and retail stop.

Havenstein said Friday he remains “very confident” the Republican Governors Association will step up financially and support the GOP nominee after the Sept. 9 primary.

This will be a moot issue unless Havenstein can knock off Bristol small businessman Andrew Hemingway in the GOP primary.

“I think the RGA realizes how important New Hampshire is,” Havenstein said.

He’d better be right.

In 2012, outside money by the two PACS for the Democratic and Republican Governors Association played a bigger role here than in any other state.

The RGA didn’t quite match the nearly $10 million spent on behalf of the Democratic nominee, Maggie Hassan.

Hassan went on to win convincingly.

Now, partisans for 2012 gubernatorial nominee Ovide Lamontagne question to this day the RGA’s ad strategy, focusing less on Hassan’s liberal voting record in the Senate and more on the fact she didn’t have to pay local property taxes because her husband ran Phillips Exeter Academy.

Hassan is the only female Democratic governor in the country, and is vice chairwoman of the DGA. The DGA boss is Vt. Gov. Peter Shumlin.

Who doesn’t believe the DGA will double down on its 2012 investment?

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