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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

When the Yankees ruled baseball and Republicans ruled NH

Telegraph Editorial

‘Can’t anybody here play this game?” the late New York Yankees manager Casey Stengel once asked in a moment of frustration.

Of course, by then, Stengel was managing the 1962 New York Mets, the worst team in modern baseball history. ...

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‘Can’t anybody here play this game?” the late New York Yankees manager Casey Stengel once asked in a moment of frustration.

Of course, by then, Stengel was managing the 1962 New York Mets, the worst team in modern baseball history.

New Hampshire’s Republican Party leaders might have had much the same reaction in response to the news this week that former Rep. Charles Bass opted not to run for the U.S. Senate against Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.

We saw that as unfortunate news, not only for Republicans, but for the state. Bass was a proven vote-getter and – once upon a time – carried a voting record that seemed less dogmatic than many of his Republican colleagues in Congress. We thought a Bass-Shaheen matchup offered the prospect of a substantive campaign.

Bass, from Peterborough, becomes only the latest candidate to bow out of a campaign against Shaheen, the popular former governor whose “friends” send out fundraising emails that suggest – through their tone and by their frequency – that she is in danger of political extinction at any moment, rather than a frontrunner amassing a massive chest of campaign money with nobody of substance to spend it against.

Bass follows in the footsteps of others whose names were floated as possible Shaheen opponents but declined for one reason or another, including state senator and former congressman Jeb Bradley, former U.S. Sen. John E. Sununu, Executive Councilor Chris Sununu, Senate President Chuck Morse and 2010 Senate candidate Bill Binnie. Even former U.S. Sen. Bob Smith thought about a run.

That leaves former state Sen. Jim Rubens, of Etna, and Karen Testerman, a longtime conservative activist from Franklin who ran for governor in 2010, as the only GOP candidates in the race at the moment. Both are earnest and well-intentioned, but neither makes Democrats tremble at the mere mention of their names. If anything, the thought of running either against Shaheen may give Republicans pause, and perhaps it should. Neither is a proven statewide commodity.

There are a few others who haven’t said one way or another whether they’ll run, including former Mass. Sen. Scott Brown, who sometimes sounds like a candidate but is probably smart enough to join the others on the sidelines and wait for a more winnable opportunity.

With apologies to Red Sox fans, it’s not a stretch to recall that Republicans in the state used to be a lot like the Yankees of yore. The GOP was a mercilessly efficient organization with a Murderer’s Row of candidates willing to step to the plate and feast on a series of softballs lobbed by overmatched Democratic candidates.

New Hampshire went from 1925-1962 without a Democratic governor, until Manchester’s John King broke that streak; and the state’s 2nd Congressional District was in Republican hands for more than 70 consecutive years in the last century, until Dick Swett defeated Charles Douglas. Even the 1st Congressional District, which occasionally elected Democrats during the last century, sent mostly Republicans to Washington during that time.

Which is to say nothing of the stranglehold that Republicans held on the state’s seats in the U.S. Senate. From the end of the Civil War to the start of the space age, New Hampshire elected just two Democrats to the U.S. Senate.

Not to discount Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte – the party’s present de facto standard-bearer – but the days of Styles Bridges, Norris Cotton, Warren Rudman and Judd Gregg must seem like a very long time ago, indeed, when a candidate of Bass’ stature turns down a chance to run for such a plum seat. There was a time when Republicans fought over such opportunities.

Back when the Yankees dominated baseball and Granite State Republicans played the game of hardball politics as well as anyone.