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Sunday, July 18, 2010

Candidate takes gloves off in ad

Kevin Landrigan

Don’t call it a love tap but Republican Senate hopeful Bill Binnie became the first candidate statewide to draw contrast with a primary opponent in the 2010 election cycle.

To reinforce his attempted brand as the job creator in this crowded field, the New Castle businessman offered a pretty dismissive assessment of the GOP frontrunner.

“NH has a choice. Kelly Ayotte, former attorney general knows how to put people in jail,” the announcer said.

“Bill Binnie, successful businessman, knows how to put people in jobs and fix our economy.

“In these tough economic times, the choice is clear, Bill Binnie and jobs.”

The ad uses an attractive photograph of Ayotte from her own campaign website and unflattering shots of President Barack Obama with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Harry Reid in the background.

The commercial can be found on You Tube.

Does Ayotte let this brush off slide? Could she afford to get into an expensive advertising war, even a somewhat friendly one, with Binnie about the two of them with less than nine weeks before primary voters go to the polls?

Binnie also tosses this playful jab knowing his ad consultant, Arthur Finklestein, has produced some of the best attack ad campaigns in modern times.

Leave it to the campaign of Democratic Senate candidate Paul Hodes to conclude the ad gives Ayotte too much credit as a crimefighter.

“While we agree that Kelly Ayotte doesn’t have a plan to create jobs in New Hampshire, we disagree with Binnie’s assertion that she knows how to put people in jail – especially if you’re running an $80 million Ponzi scheme,’’ said Hodes Communications Director Mark Bergman.

Your move, Kelly.

New challenges

Yes Virginia, Gov. John Lynch faces a very different campaign than he has had since becoming New Hampshire’s chief executive.

It’s almost easy to forget that Lynch only got this job by a razor-thin margin over Republican incumbent Craig Benson.

Lynch knows what a close race feels like and that’s why in the span of three days this week the Lynch camp fired twice at the head of Republican candidate for governor John Stephen.

Former Portsmouth Mayor Steve Marchand and onetime, House Assistant Majority Leader Steve Shurtleff predicted Stephen’s plan to deeply cut business taxes would raise local property taxes higher than ever before.

“He’s trying to play the Superhero promising all these tax cuts when in reality his plan would lead to disastrous, local tax hikes and in some communities draconian cuts in services,” he said.

Stephen Communications Director Greg Moore said Lynch is standing on a shaky foundation when it comes to keeping promises to cities and towns.

“Given the fact the Governor Lynch’s last budget downshifted $87.4 million onto New Hampshire’s local property taxpayers, according to the New Hampshire Municipal Association, he doesn’t have any credibility in trying to assess anyone else’s plans,” Moore said.

“We know that John Lynch was responsible for raising property taxes in his budget, and given his unwillingness to make meaningful cuts to state government, it’s highly likely he would do so again.”

Don’t bother searching the database, you will not find a single press release from the Lynch camp during 2006 and 2008 criticizing Republican nominees Jim Coburn and Joe Kenney, respectfully.

When you are on the way to better than a 70 percent showing at polls, why waste the time or effort looking back that far at your opponent?

Not this time, right governor?

During an interview this week, Lynch admitted this is the most volatile electorate he’s ever faced.

“I think it’s a very challenging economy right now. We still have a lot of people unemployed, and I have talked about, New Hampshire’s unemployment is 5.9 percent, 40 percent below the national average, but we still have lots of people unemployed,” Lynch explained. “And there’s a lot of angst. It’s true, certainly to a lesser extent in New Hampshire, but across the country.”

Before a single vote is cast, more than half the nation’s governors will be replaced this fall and Lynch is determined to try to stay off that list.

Meanwhile, has Stephen blown an opportunity by raising an impressive $700,000 in three months and then using none of it to cast himself in a positive light.

Even some GOP operatives wonder why Stephen didn’t spend say $200,000 of that in June on a glossy biographical ad that could have helped inoculate himself to the inevitable attack ads that are coming his way from Lynch, the New Hampshire Democratic Party or both.

Cash in the bank

Republican Senate hopefuls Ayotte and Binnie have similar, net balance sheets at the end of June with 10 weeks to go before the Sept. 14 primary.

But that may not tell the whole picture.

Ayotte revealed today that while she had another pretty good quarter with more than $630,000 raised but spent more than that ($777,856). She’s left with $1.23 million in the bank.

Keep in mind Ayotte had to spend close to $100,000 with a counterattacking ad to respond to Hodes who launched a mortar strike TV commercial alleging Ayotte ties to the Financial Resources Mortgage scandal.

Ayotte has denied ever hearing about FRM before leaving as attorney general in July 2009.

Over the same quarter, Binnie raised more than $520,000, spent $1.7 million and had just under $1.2 million in storage.

Here’s the rest of the story. We all know by now that the mega-millionaire Binnie can write checks and did for another $500,000 over the last quarter, bringing him to $3.5 million in donations.

Before this is over, Binnie will likely become the second biggest, self-funded candidate in New Hampshire political history, though well behind Republican Gov. Craig Benson ($11 million).

Given that both candidates have to pay for overhead, there may not be much more than the cash on hand now that Ayotte will have to dole out for the stretch run.

Also, there is a definitive number and its well over $100,000 that Ayotte has taken in this race that can’t be used until the general election if she’s still standing.

Clearly, there’s much more ready cash that Binnie can tap into than Ayotte if he wants to try to spend his way to a mega-upset victory.

Hot endorsement

One of the state’s most important and politically active unions has gotten behind Democratic congressional candidate Anne McLane Kuster.

The Professional Fire Fighters of New Hampshire delegates unanimously endorsed the Hopkinton lawyer Kuster over 2002 nominee Katrina Swett of Bow.

President David Lang said Kuster’s “been just great” on safety, public pension and other key issues for the union and they solidified a kinship during the 2004 presidential primary when both were staunch supporters of New Hampshire primary winner and Democratic nominee John Kerry.

They also played a big role in the U.S. Senate election of Jeanne Shaheen in 2008 over Republican incumbent John E. Sununu.

The Nashua contingent is a very prolific part of this union and events at the Lake Street fire headquarters in Nashua were turning point events for Shaheen and Kerry.

“She is from Main Street, she understands the issues that are vitally important to working people,” Lang said.

Don’t be misled that this organization is a “only Democrats may apply” organization. In 2002, they played a big role in the blowout gubernatorial victory for Benson.

“The bond has been there for a while with Annie so we feel great about this,” Lang added.

Swett got backing from Nashua Democratic State Sen. Bette Lasky who will introduce the candidate at the grand opening of her Nashua campaign office today.

The better known Swett has more cash on hand than Kuster and that’s an enviable place to be.

The fact is out of all three runs for federal office, the $180,000 that Swett took in this latest quarter was the lowest amount.

Low on the funding poll

OK, it’s not overwhelming but two-term, Democratic Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter continues to at least meet the standard with her latest fundraising quarter.

From April through June 30, she raised another $209,479 and has $605,596 in the bank.

To put that into perspective, it’s less of a cash balance than either Democratic challenger for the open 2nd Congressional District seat have, Kuster (about $750,000) and Swett ($1.15 million).

Campaign Manager Angela Ruslander reminded that Shea-Porter doesn’t tap the usual sources other Capitol Hill incumbents gorge on.

“Since Carol’s first winning campaign in 2006, she has never accepted contributions from D.C. lobbyists or business PACs,” Ruslander said in a statement. “Instead, Carol has always relied on a strong grassroots network. This support has allowed us to put together a great team that will help ensure that Carol can continue to stand up for Granite State veterans, soldiers, seniors, and middle class families.”

Missing the value

The Local Government Center and the firefighters continue their multi-faceted legal fight Aug. 2 in Merrimack County Superior Court with a two-hour hearing on redacted documents of the municipal lobby.

The LGC has released more than seven years of minutes and records to the firefighter union as part of the lawsuit but union officials are questioning the reason for blacking out key references,

The personal favorite of union President Lang is that LGC officials revealed to their board that they were doing quite well on the managed care of prescription drug spending the organization had since 2005.

The organization’s consultant reviewed the “value and savings to the members” (read big profit on the state contract), the minutes said but then struck out any of the detail on how much they were making.

“I’m sure Governor Lynch would be very interested to know how much the municipal lobby is making that it used to lobby against the governor’s budget,” Lang quipped.

Guinta’s record called out

Ayotte didn’t help Republican congressional candidate Frank Guinta’s railing against reckless spending.

Buried in the 6,000 e-mails of Ayotte’s tenure as attorney general was one on March 2, 2009, in which she criticized Guinta for “grandstanding.”

This came after an article in which Guinta complained state officials were “dragging their feet” or having a hard time understanding the stimulus act.

“Pressure coming your way,” Ayotte wrote in an e-mail that morning to her top deputy at the time, Orville “Bud” Fitch.

Of Guinta, Ayotte wrote, “He is such a grandstander.”

Fitch’s reply? “The fun never ends!”

Guinta said he was never for the stimulus law, and it only replaced money the federal government had taken away from communities and declined to take a shot back at Ayotte.

She engaged in damage control in an interview with Hotline OnCall this week.

“When I called for all my e-mails to be released, I knew there would be an infinite number of subjects discussed,” Ayotte said in the statement. “Some serious thoughts, some spur of the moment reactions. I have tremendous respect for Frank and for what he was able to accomplish as mayor. We spoke over the weekend and I expressed regret for that message.”

Then on Friday, RealClearPolitics.com suggested Guinta was a flip-flopper as well.

While on the campaign trail, Guinta has attacked the federal climate change bill known as cap and trade.

But the political website pointed out two locations where then-Mayor Guinta signed on to climate change agreements. They were the U.S. Mayors pact that endorsed the Kyoto protocol emission targets. The list of supporters is at www.usmayors.org/climate protection/list.asp.

The website noted Guinta backed the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, which endorsed the Kyoto protocol emissions targets.

As mayor, Guinta also backed to the Sierra Club’s Cool Cities Agreement. The minutes for that aldermanic meeting are posted with this column at nashuatelegraph.com.

Guinta spokesman Sean Thomas said the Manchester Board of Aldermen initiated the Sierra Club arrangement and the mayor signed on as the city’s chief executive.

“Some are trying to spin this as Frank signing on to cap and trade and it’s absolutely not the same thing,” Thomas added.

As for the Conference of Mayors, Thomas said the group probably got support from predecessor Mayor Robert Baines, a Democrat, and substitute Guinta’s name after the fact.

One of the first acts Guinta made as mayor was to rescind the city’s membership in the U.S. Mayors Group as part of a budget-cutting initiative, Thomas added.

All work

Wednesday is a busy day here starting with the Legislative Fiscal Committee getting a full airing on the Web-based option for the new scratch ticket game.

New Hampshire Lottery Commission leaders told a House committee that it plans to ramp up for an Aug. 1 start the Play Now NH games with poker, baseball and other options. They canceled a July 1 start due to outrage from legislative leaders when they had learned via the lottery’s own website that they were starting this game without consulting the Legislature much less getting its approval.

Meanwhile across Concord, Insurance Commissioner Roger Sevigny’s team presides over a public hearing on new rules for the Joint Underwriting Association of New Hampshire. If adopted they expressly give future lawmakers and governors the legal right to any of the new surplus generated by this quasi-public entity that provides affordable, medical malpractice and liability coverage for doctors, hospitals and other providers.

Battle on Capitol Hill

The battle for cash from Capitol Hill lobbyists is pretty competitive between the two leading Senate candidates, Ayotte and Hodes.

The GOP hopeful Ayotte leads with $76,450 but Hodes is not all that far behind with $60,720 as of the end of March according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Binnie isn’t even in the game for this one and doesn’t want to be with a $1,000 donation. Shaheen has received $17,500 from lobbyists since her 2008 election, according to the group.

In the congressional races, Republicans lead there as well with Rich Ashooh of Bedford well out in front with $7,650 compared to $1,500 for Guinta.

Ashooh did lobbying work for BAE Systems in Washington.

Former Congressman Charlie Bass leads in the 2nd District hunt gathering $4,300 with only Swett of Bow receiving $500. Kuster who has been a lobbyist for more than a decade in Concord but never on Capitol Hill, did not receive any such checks thus far.

Both Republican candidate for governor Stephen and Shea-Porter got $500 apiece.

Time to pay the tax man

State Senate Republican candidate Joe Kelly Levasseur is a popular bomb thrower in the Queen City and frequent critic of the politically powerful.

Now that he’s on the November ballot for the Senate District 20 seat, he may find himself in the hot seat for owing these local property taxes in Manchester:

102 Elm St.: $3,443;

864 Elm St.: $1,845; and

866 Elm St.: $2,140.

Levasseur could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon.

Bad call

GOP media consultant Mike Dennehy took the fall and said he alone was responsible for automated telephone calls on the eve of the June 8 election in Maine that attacked Republican candidate for governor Paul LePage on civil unions.

Dennehy said neither his candidate, millionaire businessman Les Otten, or the campaign knew about the calls that Dennehy said he did in response to anti-Otten fliers LePage had put out.

The phone call became an issue last month when the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices launched an investigation because the call contained no disclosure, as required by law.

“I’ve never, in 20 years, knowingly violated election law,” Dennehy told the Kennebec Journal in Maine.

“I came forward and wanted to get the issue settled.”

The Sunday Telegraph first reported on the eve of the 2002 primary that Dennehy had sponsored with support of Republican candidate for governor Benson automated calls attacking primary rival Gordon Humphrey.

These were tough but perfectly legal.

Dennehy said he had been unaware of Maine’s disclosure laws.

“I think it’s a great lesson to be learned by me that you have to be particularly careful in the final hours of a campaign,” Dennehy said.

The calls cost only $200 and had little effect on the race as LePage won with 37 percent and Otten finished a distant second with only 17 percent support.

Otten didn’t hesitate to shoot his own former consultant.

“Mr. Dennehy had no authority, no responsibility, no directive, no hint of direction, no discussion and no motivation from any person inside or outside the campaign staff, relatives, or workers to act as he did,” Otten told the Maine newspaper. “It was a complete rogue action, was despicable and unacceptable by any standard.”

Otten, a former Red Sox minority owner and founder of American Skiing Co. ran a pretty poor campaign despite Dennehy’s assistance. Critics accused Otten early on with copying a website logo from Obama’s campaign and then having a campaign worker resign after plagiarizing material from a conservative think tank that got passed off as Otten’s own words

But Otten only ratcheted up the criticism of Dennehy, a nationally known and respected campaign operative.

“I’m not sure how to give it words that can be used without expressing profanity,” Otten said. “Just appalled. Mystified. Anger. Disbelief. It’s extraordinarily stupid coming from someone who had been in charge of a presidential campaign in New Hampshire.”

So much for staying neutral

Boston radio talk show host and newspaper columnist Howie Carr came under attack from the left for his planned guest star appearance at a New Hampshire GOP State Committee fundraiser in Nashua on July 31.

“While it’s true Carr proudly wears his right-wing politics on his sleeve, it’s unusual for a working journalist to lend his name so explicitly to a political event. “I suspect (Carr) would say he criticizes Republicans, too, but doing something like this isn’t what I consider objective journalism,” said Alex Jones, the Laurence M. Lombard Lecturer on the Press and Public Policy at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center. “But I don’t think he thinks he’s in the objective journalism business.”

Another “expert” said the GOP should report Carr’s salary as an in-kind contribution to the Federal Elections Commission.

How about this reference to the Granite State from the left-leaning, X generation website, The Dig?

“There are few things less appetizing than a Boston Herald employee, and yet the red-blooded Republicans of the cultural wasteland to our north are combining hacks and hamburgers in an all-American, $50 per plate fundraiser for New Hampshire’s Republican State Committee,” The Dig wrote.

The New Hampshire GOP turned it into a fundraising gimmick calling on suppoters to “annoy the liberal Boston press” by buying a ticket to the Hamburgers with Howie event.

On Thursday night, state Republican Chairman John H. Sununu was on Carr’s WRKO program with fill-in host Avi Nelson and conservative talk show host and author Laura Ingram.

Sununu also turned out for kickoff of Ingram’s bookselling tour in Boston and during the WRKO event, Carr called in from his vacationing boat ride in Portland, Maine, to declare the attacks have made him “more fired up than ever” about the Nashua fete.

Televised debates

WMUR-TV and the New Hampshire Union Leader will host all its nine, primary and general election debates at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics on the campus of Saint Anselm College.

They will kick off starting one week before the Sept. 14 primary, first with the mad scramble for the 1st Congressional District Republican nomination and will conclude for the preliminaries Sept. 10 with the GOP candidates for governor.

The marquis matchup, the GOP fight for the U.S. Senate nomination, will go down Sept. 9.

The general election showdowns run Oct. 25-28 and will conclude on the last night with the U.S. Senate race.

All will be one hour in length, moderated by a WMUR news anchor with questions from journalists with The Union Leader and the Manchester-based TV station.

“Saint Anselm College also has a tradition of participating in the electoral process by hosting candidate debates and forums. This year, we are very excited to partner with WMUR and The Union Leader to host the 2010 Granite State debates on our campus,” said Neil Levesque, executive director of the NHIOP.

“We welcome this opportunity for our students to have firsthand access to the candidates and issues.”

The records show …

The New Hampshire Democratic Party posted on its website new presentations on the Lynch record in office and a biting comeback at the state GOP including ex-Gov. John H. Sununu for what it called “reckless spending” of years gone by when Republicans were in charge.

Kevin Landrigan can be reached at 321-7040 or klandrigan@nashuatelegraph.com.