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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Republican primary for governor likely to get tougher

Kevin Landrigan

The first forum of Republican candidates for governor is history, and while no knockout blows were thrown, it surely revealed this race is bound to get rougher heading into the Sept. 9 vote.

Walt Havenstein, Andrew Hemingway and lesser-known hopeful Jonathan Smolin used the event as a shakedown cruise to try out their talking points and to emphasize this election is about jobs and the economy. ...

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The first forum of Republican candidates for governor is history, and while no knockout blows were thrown, it surely revealed this race is bound to get rougher heading into the Sept. 9 vote.

Walt Havenstein, Andrew Hemingway and lesser-known hopeful Jonathan Smolin used the event as a shakedown cruise to try out their talking points and to emphasize this election is about jobs and the economy.

But when it came to the Affordable Care Act and Havenstein’s spirited opposition to it, that’s when some fur began to fly.

Hemingway jumped in by reminding the audience that while Havenstein ran Scientific Applications International Corp., the firm received more than $5 million in federal grants to implement the Affordable Care Act.

As Havenstein first told The Telegraph, his personal beliefs did not dictate what strategic decisions the company made to pursue business in the public and private sectors.

Even Smolin chimed in with, “But you were the CEO,” another indication that this will be one of several flashpoints in the weeks that remain.

Another could well be Hemingway’s ambitious plan to reform business and dividend taxes, replacing all of them with a flat 2 percent business tax that, for the first time, nonprofits and government alike would also have to pay.

To this point, Havenstein publicly has said his far more modest plan to lower the Business Profits Tax rate 13 percent over the next four years is doable and would help unleash creation of 25,000 more jobs by Aug. 15, 2016.

Privately, they seriously question whether Hemingway’s promises about his plan hold water, such as that it’s a 42 percent tax break for small business.

After all, while Hemingway’s plan does raise the no-tax threshold, it still means all firms would go from paying a 0.75 percent tax on business activity to a 2 percent tax.

If Hemingway becomes even more of a threat to thread the needle and win this primary, watch for Havenstein and his allies to come after that proposal with both barrels.

The town hall question

Republican leaders and their standard-bearing candidates continued to pound on the absence of no-holds-barred town hall meetings from New Hampshire’s three Democrats in the congressional delegation, along with Gov. Maggie Hassan.

The campaign of Frank Guinta, a former congressman who is a 1st Congressional District hopeful, couldn’t contain itself upon learning Democratic incumbent Carol Shea-Porter was out with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi fundraising in California’s wine country.

“Instead of holding town halls with her constituents, the congresswoman is hobnobbing with big-money, liberal special-interest groups in wine country,” Guinta campaign manager Jay Ruais said. “Could the congresswoman please tell us why she has chosen California over her constituents?”

Then there was Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., fundraising in South Carolina, prompting a tag-team diatribe from GOP
Chairman Jennifer Horn, of Nashua.

“Senator Shaheen and Congresswoman Shea-Porter have demonstrated that they are elitist Washington politicians who would rather rub shoulders with millionaires instead of listening to middle-class families at town hall meetings,” Horn said in a statement.

“They continue to thumb their noses at New Hampshire’s tradition of open and accessible government because they are unwilling to defend their failed records and blind support for President Obama.”

The state GOP started a town hall ticker last week, noting it has been 718 days since Shaheen had her last such event.

Finally, we have GOP Senate candidate Scott Brown, who on Monday brings in the modern grandfather of the town hall format: two-time New Hampshire presidential primary winner John McCain.

If elected, Havenstein has pledged he’d host a town hall all 24 state Senate districts, which would translate to at least one a month.

Now for some historical perspective: Despite our well-earned reputation as a state with demanding voters, our congressional delegation in both parties hasn’t had a long history of hosting town hall meetings.

The previous delegation generation – Republican Sen. John E. Sununu, former Congressmen Charlie Bass and Guinta, as well as Democratic Congressman Paul Hodes – held very few, if any of them.

The most recent string came from Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., who, in response to an uproar over her opposition to gun control legislation hosted three over two days last year, exposing herself to plenty of hostile questions, along with shows of support.

Guess what happened: A year later, Ayotte’s ratings in the polls among likely voters have substantially rebounded.

Clearly, a lot else happened in the intervening period.

Ask President Barack Obama about the power of connecting with everyday voters in those vital days when they’re making up their minds.

How did Hillary Clinton catch and beat Obama at the tape to win the first-in-the-nation primary in 2008?

The answer isn’t those tears she shed in the Portsmouth restaurant going into the final weekend. It’s what she did after Obama blew her out in the Iowa caucus.

She hopped in her campaign plane to New Hampshire and spent the final five days hosting marathon town meetings that drew larger and larger crowds.

Voters saw not only an articulate, authentic candidate, but one who would do anything to earn their vote.

In contract, Obama coasted to the finish with inspiring but safe speeches, and the rest is history.

The lesson from all of this should be that in this state at least, the consulting class in Washington doesn’t have a clue.

People here expect – no, demand – those wanting their vote to hear voter concerns and answer the tough questions.

Don’t be surprised if these Democratic incumbents, after their token primary wins, each in their own way pivot to opening up their campaign stops to more genuine give-and-take.

Their very survival may depend on it.

Manning inspires Dems

Whether it’s reality or fantasy, state Democratic leaders believe their chances of taking over the Senate went up substantially last week.

The decision of Manchester lawyer Maureen Raiche Manning to launch – and all but certainly win – a write-in nomination campaign moves the District 16 seat from lead-pipe Republican to one of the state’s most competitive.

Manning comes from a storied political family. The political and fundraising prowess of her father, Alan Raiche, figured prominently in the rise of Shaheen, Hassan, John Lynch and countless other Democratic officeholders.

Meanwhile, Sen. Dave Boutin, R-Hooksett, already faced a stiff primary challenge from state Rep. Jane Cormier. Libertarian and fiscally conservative activists were already calling for his retirement for supporting a gas tax increase and Medicaid expansion.

Boutin’s quick public apology last week for his behavior in a bar last year – to that point only reported by conservative bloggers on the Web – spoke to how vulnerable the incumbent knew he already was.

Now it’s game on, and if one more GOP Senate seat were to fall on Nov. 4, then the gavel would pass back to Democrats and complete the third such partisan swing in eight years.

“We now know that our chances of taking back the Senate just got better than our odds of holding onto the House,” one Democratic insider confided.

Sitting this one out

Attorney General Joe Foster, of Nashua, did the prudent thing Friday, stepping aside from the latest state GOP complaint accusing Hassan of accepting illegal PAC donations to her campaign for governor in 2012.

Back then, Foster wasn’t Hassan’s hand-picked AG as he is now, but a private lawyer and member of Hassan’s campaign finance committee.

Question of millions

Someone is likely to look pretty foolish in late September when the state’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report comes out about the state budget year that ended June 30.

Senate GOP leaders pounced on a conservative columnist’s claim last week that the Department of Health and Human Services overspent its budget by $31 million.

Hassan’s office responded that state agencies remained “right on track” with their target of returning $50 million of unspent money to the treasury, while several weeks remain to scrub thousands of accounts.

They both can’t be right, and this report could either put Hassan on even more solid political footing than she is now or throw the race for governor much more wide open with a five-week sprint to the finish.

The pledge tote board

What’s most interesting about the Americans for Prosperity pledge against taxes, spending the Affordable Care Act and for Right-to-Work is: Who has hasn’t signed it?

Brown, the Republican Senate frontrunner, has not, his campaign noting it has been the candidate’s standard practice not to sign any of these pledges.

GOP rivals Bob Smith and Jim Rubens have.

Both major candidates for governor have, as have the two leading contenders for the 2nd Congressional District. But former state Rep. Jim Lawrence, of Hudson, has not.

In the 1st Congressional District, there’s Guinta’s name, but not Dan Innis, a Portsmouth business owner and college administrator.

In the state Senate, most challengers or open-seat competitors are onboard, but only four of the 10 GOP senators running again are – Andy Sanborn, of Bedford; Sam Cataldo, of Farmington; Russell Prescott, of Kingston;
and John Reagan, of Deerfield.

“The public should ask those who have not signed the pledge some important questions about their commitment to fiscally responsible government,” AFP state director Greg Moore said.

“What taxes would they support increasing? What spending do they think should be increased? What other restrictions on worker freedom do they support? Why do they support Obamacare?

“These are critical questions that should drive the debate in the coming weeks and months, and the citizens deserve good answers on these issues.”

Exhilarating labor of love

As many of you know, the closing of the newspaper’s Statehouse bureau, effective Friday, means this is my last column writing as an employee of The Telegraph.

Over two periods starting in 1979, I’ve literally spent half of my life working for a great community newspaper that has always managed to stay on the cutting edge.

How? The answer is by doing what our industry does unlike no other: Go well beyond who, what, when and where to explain why things are happening, and why readers and viewers should care so much because it affects their everyday lives.

This has been an exhilarating labor of love for me.

It’s my desire to re-emerge in the media covering New Hampshire politics and government, and I hope to have some news on that front before too long.

In the meantime, many thanks for the good wishes and encouragement I have received. My humble response is that’s my job, and it has been my pleasure doing it.

I’ll always treasure my time here, doing my best to report fairly and comprehensively to make your state government, as well as political campaigns, from the smallest to the highest office of the land, more accountable.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll keep you posted.