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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

For Bass vs. Kuster, familiarity breeds contentious campaign

Facing off for the second time in three years, Charles Bass and Ann McLane Kuster have come to know each other well. But with each tracing deep New Hampshire roots, history between the two goes far deeper.

More than a century ago, Bass’ grandfather, Robert Bass, served alongside Kuster’s great-grandfather, John McLane, in the New Hampshire Legislature. Both men went on to serve as governor of the Granite State, four years apart. ...

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Facing off for the second time in three years, Charles Bass and Ann McLane Kuster have come to know each other well. But with each tracing deep New Hampshire roots, history between the two goes far deeper.

More than a century ago, Bass’ grandfather, Robert Bass, served alongside Kuster’s great-grandfather, John McLane, in the New Hampshire Legislature. Both men went on to serve as governor of the Granite State, four years apart.

Despite their common histories, the two congressional candidates, who faced each other in the 2010 race, have found little common ground. And what began as a civil contest between two friendly foes has turned into a heated race between two fierce rivals.

The two will face off Nov. 6 in the race in the 2nd Congressional District, which runs from Nashua to Keene to Berlin and beyond.

“I’ve known my friend Annie Kuster virtually my whole life ... but we don’t see eye-to-eye on a lot of things,” Bass, the sitting U.S. representative, said last month in a debate.

“Congressman Bass and I go back a long ways, but the Charlie I have known is very different from the man who is down in Washington voting,” Kuster, a Concord attorney, countered in an interview last month in Nashua. “He’s got a very different set of values now.”

Much in common

The two challengers have more in common than their political lineage.

Both attended Dartmouth College and in this campaign, both candidates are running toward political middle ground.

On the campaign trail, Kuster likes to tell audiences that she comes from a bipartisan family. Her mother, Susan McLane, served as a Republican in the state Senate, and, in 1972, her father, Malcolm McLane, ran as an independent for the governor’s office.

Kuster, who worked as a Democratic Party activist, has stuck largely to party talking points. She has offered support for the Affordable Care Act, the stimulus package and other federal programs, leading Bass to label her in one ad as “one of the most partisan liberals in the country.”

“I absolutely believe that it’s the private sector that creates jobs. ... But I believe the government does create an environment for business to grow,” Kuster countered in September.

Meanwhile, Bass, who served six terms in Congress from 1994-2006 before returning to office in 2010, also has tried to strike a similarly moderate tone.

Like his father, the late Perkins Bass, who served four terms in Congress, Charlie Bass developed a reputation as a moderate voice in his first stint in Washington, parting ways with Republican leadership on issues of alternative energy and women’s reproductive rights, among others.

This term, Bass served as one of eight lawmakers to sponsor a bipartisan budget plan based on the principles of the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles commission.

The proposal fell flat in the House, earning only 38 votes. But Bass has used the effort on the campaign trail, stressing his bipartisan credentials.

“If we aren’t willing to listen to one another, to work together on big issues, America is not going to survive,” he said.

But Kuster has been quick to remind voters of her opponent’s more extreme votes.

In the 2010 campaign, Bass focused more on his conservative fiscal views to better align himself with the emerging tea party wing of the Republican Party. In Congress, he has voted multiple times to repeal the health care law, as well as in support of the controversial House Republican budget, which proposed to increase a private voucher option for Medicare, Kuster has noted.

“Honestly, he was part of the tea party Congress that took our economy right to the edge of default,” Kuster said last month. “We’ve got to be serious about the budget.”

Attacks become personal

Earlier in the campaign, ads aired by the candidates focused primarily on their stances and voting histories. But in recent weeks, as political committees and other interest groups have become involved, it has grown more personal.

In September, the National Republican Congressional Committee, for instance, released an ad of Kuster allegedly grabbing a camera from a Bass staff worker. “Ann Kuster: Don’t we have enough like her in Washington?” the ad asks.

Earlier this month, Kuster responded with an ad referring to Bass one of the “most corrupt” members of Congress for allegedly promoting a wood pellet company in which he held stock. “Congressman Bass: Out for himself, not us,” the ad concludes.

So far, these ads have done little to separate the candidates in the minds of voters.

With about a week remaining until Election Day, Bass and Kuster remain separated by 2 percentage points, according to recent poll by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center.

The poll, released Oct. 23, shows Kuster leading Bass among voters surveyed, 35-33 percent. By comparison, the two were separated by a single point six months ago when 40 percent of voters supported Kuster to 39 percent for Bass.

“One of the things that’s really interesting is that there’s still a very high percentage of undecided voters,” said Andrew Smith, the survey center director. “That shows voters aren’t paying very much attention. ... There’s still an opportunity there for both candidates.”

The fundraising battle hasn’t been as close.

According to Open
Secrets.org, Kuster, who drew national attention for her fundraising efforts in 2010, has raised about $2.6 million so far this campaign cycle – nearly $1 million more than Bass, who has compiled about $1.7 million.

To date, Kuster has spent about $1.7 million, leaving her with about $900,000 in the bank. Bass, by comparison, has spent about $1 million, leaving him with $752,000 on hand.

With the election closing in, the fundraising race isn’t as significant as in past months, when it both gauged voter enthusiasm and helped the candidates reach the airwaves.

“At this point, you’d have to think that most of the (air) time has been booked. So the money might help them pay off debts after the election is over, but it probably won’t have a big effect,” said Dean Spiliotes, a professor of political science at Southern New Hampshire University.

Rather, the candidates will be left battling for the remaining undecided votes, Spiliotes said.

“I think this all comes down to voter turnout,” he said. “It’s a matter of who can get more voters to the polls. ... I expect it to be close right up through Election Day.”

Jake Berry can be reached at 594-6402 or jberry@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Berry on Twitter (Telegraph_JakeB).