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Sunday, October 17, 2010

Hodes far behind Ayotte in the all-important race for funding

Kevin Landrigan

Money talks, and the chatter isn’t good for Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Paul Hodes, of Concord.

Republican candidate Kelly Ayotte, of Nashua, outraised Hodes by $500,000 in the five-week period ending Sept. 30 and – not coincidentally – Ayotte has a half-million lead in the all-important cash-on-hand category.

This becomes especially problematic with all signs pointing to Hodes essentially being on his own and not the recipient of a big media buy from the likes of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

The public polls are offering no help, with Ayotte holding a commanding 15-point lead in the University of New Hampshire Survey Center poll done for WMUR-TV.

These internal numbers from the UNH poll hold out even less hope for Hodes:

 • Independents: Ayotte leads by 16.

 • Highly motivated voters: Ayotte leads by 23.

 • Not very interested voters: Hodes trails by just three.

 • 2nd Congressional District voters: Ayotte leads by 11.

 • Neutral about Obama voters: Ayotte leads by 17.

Hodes did better in a Rasmussen Reports survey that came out Monday, trailing Ayotte 51 percent to 44 percent.

Here’s a word to the wise: This race will tighten, and Democratic internals already show it has.

The Hodes camp has become convinced Ayotte’e early e-mails in 2006 about her political ambition and comments on supporting the death penalty for a convicted cop killer reveal a candidate who’s motivated by power and is therefore more likely to side with the powerful interests in Washington.

As one Democratic Party observer put it this week: “If that’s what they are counting on to win this race, it’s a hard sell.’’

Hodes campaign manager Valerie Martin released a campaign memo making the case for why this race is winnable.

“Clearly, in the final two weeks of this race, Kelly Ayotte’s continuing email-gate will haunt her campaign and be a real issue for undecided voters who notoriously break late in New Hampshire elections,’’ Martin wrote.

“Kelly Ayotte also has a history of not closing well in elections. In the Republican primary, she let a lead of nearly 20 percent slip away in the final weeks and barely held on against a vastly underfunded candidate, eking out the nomination by less than 2,000 votes.

“With this scandal growing and the race in single digits, she is very much in danger of facing a similar situation on November 2.’’

‘Ultimate punishment’

Could Ayotte’s death penalty comments affect the state’s bid to put Michael Addison to death for killing Manchester Patrolman Michael Briggs?

Andru Volinsky, a defense trial lawyer with a long record of working on death penalty matters here and in other states, believes it could.

“Prosecutors are always studiously careful to refrain from making any comment on these cases or their positions on them,’’ Volinsky said.

“Now that these e-mails are out in the public domain, I’d be amazed if the public defender’s office doesn’t try to use them in their appeals in this case.’’

Addison’s defense team won’t comment publicly for the same reason prosecutors ordinarily say very little: The courts don’t like it while the case is pending.

Lawyers and prosecutors supporting Hodes ramped up last week with an op-ed critical of Ayotte’s comments.

Democratic National Committeeman Peter Burling said during a telephone interview the comments were “beyond the pale.’’

“This is just something that goes way beyond the proper and moral grounds for a prosecutor in a case where the ultimate punishment is at stake,’’ said Burling, who consistently opposed the death penalty while serving in the Legislature for nearly two decades.

“Everyone associated with the New Hampshire Bar should rise up in response to this.’’

Ayotte has said she acted appropriately and with integrity throughout the Briggs case, and her campaign spokesman echoed those comments later last week.

Here’s the pertinent back-and-forth about the e-mail exchange in October 2006 between Ayotte and Rob Varsalone, a longtime Ayotte friend who’s a paid adviser to the Senate campaign.

Quotation marks have been inserted for this posting:

From: Robert Varsalone

To: Ayotte, Kelly

Subject: RE: Get ready to run …

Date: Friday, October 27, 2006 10:32:00 AM

“I know, I read about it. Where does AG Ayotte stand on the Death Penalty? BY THE SWITCH.’’

From: Ayotte, Kelly (

Sent: Friday, October 27, 2006 4:13 PM


Subject: Re: Get ready to run …

“Have you been following the last 2 Weeks. A police officer was killed and I announced that I would seek the death penalty?’’

Sent from my BlackBerry Wireless Handheld

-----Original Message-----

From: Robert Varsalone (

To: Ayotte, Kelly (Kelly.Ayotte@doj

Sent: Fri Oct 27 04:16:30 2006

Subject: Get ready to run …

“New Hampshire-2: Here’s a surprise. No one expected Rep. Charlie Bass (R) to fall behind late in the game, but that’s where he is. Bass appears to have been caught off his guard. He has been outraised by his repeat opponent, Paul Hodes, whom he defeated by 20 points in 2004.

“Republicans complain about Bass’s lacksidaisical staffers and discuss the possible loss of his Northern New Hampshire seat. Bass’s get-out-the-vote effort is extremely disorganized. He is also upsetting his base with ads that brought his pro-abortion stance into the race and that distance himself from the Republican Party.

“It is unclear whether Bass can be saved in time. He just started a huge phone drive Tuesday to save his seat, and some Republicans remain hopeful that he can bounce back by November 7. Leaning Democratic Takeover.’’

It won’t go away

The New Hampshire Democratic Party and Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter, of Rochester, seem bent on trying to make the 1st Congressional District race a showdown on character.

The Sunday Telegraph first raised questions about where Republican nominee Frank Guinta got more than $200,000 in personal loans to his campaign.

We’ve come a long way since then, and we really haven’t with Guinta, who insists the money was his own and flatly denies a New Hampshire Public Radio report last week that suggested the cash came from his parents, who sold a second home in New Jersey.

Guinta did interviews with the New Hampshire Union Leader and WMUR-TV answering some, but not all, of the pertinent questions about his finances.

Public and internal GOP polls show this controversy isn’t breaking through with voters or making it any easier for an incumbent (Shea-Porter) with few public breaks from her House Democratic leadership.

UNH had Guinta ahead with 48 percent to 36 percent for Shea-Porter, 5 percent for others and 11 percent undecided.

State Democratic Party officials will continue the drumbeat for Guinta to throw open his checkbook.

“It’s clear that the money isn’t really his, and he has an obligation to show us his bank statements to prove otherwise,’’ Democratic Party spokesman Harrell Kirstein said.

Guinta’s latest report to the Federal Election Commission on Friday didn’t add to the $355,000 in total personal loans to this race. Over a five-week period, he raised about $274,000, and at the end of September he had about $290,000 in the bank, campaign officials said.

Guinta reported at the end of this week that another $25,000 had come in since Sept. 30.

Maybe money isn’t everything

Republican gubernatorial nominee John Stephen continues to impress on the campaign fundraising front, opening up a lead over Gov. John Lynch heading into the final two weeks.

All signs point to Stephen raising close to $1.5 million before the end of this race, and in this state, that’s enough to win even against an incumbent – and especially in a Republican-trending year.

The candidate has remained on message and received more help from outside sources than any opponent to Lynch than might have thought possible.

So, why are the polls showing Lynch growing his lead over Stephen?

There are two reasons.

First, Stephen made a calculated bet at the beginning of the race that money was king. To be competitive with Lynch at the end, Stephen knew he had to turn the heads of GOP leaders here and in Washington.

That mission accomplished, next comes the creation of a statewide grassroots network that can buffet any candidate when the expected assault arrives from the other side.

On that score, Stephen was less prepared.

Lynch’s campaign mounted attack after attack against Stephen’s character on the airwaves. Meanwhile, except for a few press releases from the campaign, Stephen lacked the kind of character witnesses and groups that flew to Ayotte’s side when she was the target during the summer.

The second reason is that even at this late date, not enough people knew who Stephen really was.

They know Lynch, however, and once Lynch started opening up on Stephen’s character, that’s when the hemorrhaging began.

Stephen remains confident this race will come back to him. There’s a better chance at the end of the day that the undecideds will break away from the incumbent.

Despite an independent attack ad campaign that’s likely to top somewhere north of $2.5 million, however, Lynch looks in pretty solid shape.

Maybe money IS everything

What should concern Democrats at the top of the ballot is that the national GOP interests are all in, while the national Dems are on the sidelines or still making up their minds.

Look at the state political action committees for the Republican Governors Association ($1.3 million in the tank) versus the Democratic Governors Association ($7,000).

The DGA has kicked $250,000 over to the N.H. Democratic Party in the last few months. Much of that has gone into a heavy buy of attack ads against Stephen on radio outlets throughout the state.

But with 16 days and counting, $900,000 in television advertising time reserved by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee on Boston TV stations for Shea-Porter’s 1st Congressional District hasn’t been aired.

This wouldn’t be the first campaign in which the DCCC opted to move some of it elsewhere, maybe in ads to boost the fortunes of congressional Democrats running in Massachusetts

We’ll know soon enough.

War of words

Democratic Party Chairman Raymond Buckley waged open warfare with a gay-rights organization.

As vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Buckley is the only party chairman who’s openly gay, and one of the community’s most visible figures in party politics.

The flank group calling itself We’ll give when we get contends gay-rights supporters in power give lip service around election time but have failed to deliver because the agenda is so politically charged.

“Democrats and Republicans are holding our equality hostage – promising progress if we vote them back into office year after year, but never actually delivering on those promises,’’ wrote Robin McGehee, the group’s co-founder and director.

“It’s time for us to call them on their game of chicken. We are insisting on progress before we will prop up political parties and committees that expect us to donate while they fund anti-equality candidates and fail us time after time ‘’

Their most immediate demand was for President Barack Obama to sign an executive order repealing the “Don’t ask, don’t tell’’ policy regarding gays serving in the military.

After this posting, Buckley shot back hard.

“Did Karl Rove (write-sic) this letter for you? It is sickening and thankfully not working.

“I am raising more LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual) dollars this year than ever before.’’

The group responded with an edgy Web video mocking Buckley for his claims after Obama’s election about items on the gay-rights agenda that still are not accomplished nearly two years later.

“Another gay party insider promising the world and then blaming us when our civil rights aren’t delivered,’’ the video panned about Buckley.

What’s new

Here are a few key campaign updates:

 • Senate District 12: Nashua Republican candidate Gary Lambert released a big list of veterans supporting the challenger, a U.S. Marine over the last 30 years. The Neighborhood Veterans Network for Lambert recently canvassed with the candidate.

State GOP leaders called on Democratic incumbent Bette Lasky, of Nashua, to reduce some of a $2,500 donation she received from the NHHCA PAC. Communications director Ryan Williams said neither candidate abided by the voluntary spending limit and can’t take more than $1,000 from any source.

 • Senate District 18: Former State Sen. Bobby Stephen endorsed Republican nominee Tom De Blois, of Manchester, who seeks to upset Democratic Sen. Betsi DeVries.

Stephen is a Democrat, the father of GOP gubernatorial nominee John Stephen, onetime candidate for Congress and a 2009 candidate for mayor of Manchester who doesn’t make a habit of embracing Republican candidates.

 • Senate District 4: Democrat Andrew Hosmer’s campaign went off the playbook last month in openly refusing to pledge he’d oppose a sales or income tax.

Hosmer followed that up with a mailer to Republican and independent households in the district underlining his opposition to a sales or income tax, along with “job killling’’ taxes such as the one on limited liability companies.

That’s right, the one Lynch signed and then repealed, but sure never used the GOP talking point that it was ever a job killer.

 • Debate watch: Ayotte and Hodes will face off Monday at the N.H. Institute of Politics in the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce and N.H. AARP debate.

Shea-Porter and Guinta will go at it at 7 p.m. Tuesday at New England College in Henniker. WGIR-AM will air and WMUR-TV will stream video live for that one.

 • Lynch picked up endorsements from the N.H. Association of Police Chiefs and the National Education Association of New Hampshire.

 • Senate Republican candidate Ovide Lamontagne is hosting a “Return to Red in 2010’’ rally at 7 p.m. Oct. 26 at the Alpine Club in Manchester.

All GOP candidates are invited to join State Chairman John E. Sununu and Lamontagne for the GOP unity event.

Tea time

Who will show up for the Tea Party Express rally set for the day before the Nov. 2 election in Concord?

The events are free and already have featured former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich and Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio as special guests.

Last summer, the group turned out several hundred for a similar rally in downtown Concord.

Polls continue to show their influence here isn’t what’s seen in other key states.

An Oct. 4-7 poll from Penn, Schoen and Berland for The Hill newspaper found 44 percent in the 2nd Congressional District thought a viable third party would be good for the country. Another 46 percent said it wouldn’t.

Asked if the Tea Party should be that third wheel, only 29 percent said yes, 53 percent said no and the rest were undecided.

Muddy race

Keep the umbrella handy, because you’ll need it for the monsoon of charges and countercharges in the 2nd Congressional District race.

Democrat Ann McLane Kuster, of Hopkinton, has finally pulled out in front of former Republican Congressman Charles Bass, of Peterborough, in the UNH Survey Center poll, and that can only mean one thing:

The mud will run thick and heavy.

Kuster led with 43 percent to 36 percent for Bass, 2 percent for others and 16 percent undecided.

Both sides will dump heavily on the other. The state GOP’s ante was the mailing against Kuster for her lobbying efforts on behalf of the maker of a date-rape drug. Kuster’s camp notes she convinced lawmakers to stiffen penalties against those who use drugs to sexually assault victims.

There’s more coming, although the smear of Kuster as lobbyist didn’t take in the Democratic primary she won in a walk over 2002 nominee Katrina Swett, of Bow.

Kuster’s mail against Bass got rough last week, charging him with voting to cut veterans’ benefits while voting for eight pay raises in Congress. Bass staged a press conference to blast what he called “false charges.’’

Memo to both sides: The “best’’ is yet to come.

Talk GOP

The Nashua Republican City Committee will host a town meeting with its candidates at 6:30 p.m. Monday at City Hall.

“We invite anyone who wants to come and ask questions to please do so,’’ said the city GOP chairman, state Rep. Carl Seidel.

Kevin Landrigan can be reached at 321-7040 or