The past six years have been brutal for the Republican Party of New Hampshire. There was a significant shift in favor of the Democrats, and in the U.S. House of Representatives, not even one Republican was elected from the six New England states. The collapse was not envisioned when Sen. Judd Gregg (R) began his final reelection campaign in 2004. Gregg was then Chairman of the Budget Committee and the GOP controlled the U.S. House and Senate.
In the Granite State, Republicans held the governorship, the entire Congressional delegation, super-majorities in both houses of the legislature, and every member of the Executive Council. The setbacks began in 2004 and there were few bright spots until this year. Now the GOP is firmly on the comeback trail.
They are expected to retain Gregg’s U.S. Senate seat, and they could well capture both New Hampshire seats in the House of Representatives. The Democratic Governor will probably be re-elected, but the race is much closer than it was a few months ago.
Background: 2004, 2006 and 2008 – The Great GOP Decline
Republicans have endured three cycles of disappointing elections. In 2004, John Kerry defeated George W. Bush by 50% to 49%. At the same time, anti-tax Gov. Craig Benson (R) lost to millionaire businessman John Lynch (D) by a 51% to 49% margin. Also in 2004, Rep. Charles Bass (R) was re-elected by 58% when he defeated attorney Paul Hodes (D).
In 2006, both of the state’s GOP Congressmen were defeated. Anti-war activist Carol Shea-Porter (D) scored one of the biggest upsets in the nation by retiring moderate Rep. Jeb Bradley (R) in the first district.
The second district featured a re-match. This time Paul Hodes (D) ousted 12 year GOP incumbent Charles Bass. Hodes frequently spoke of his opposition to the USAPatriot Act, and said Republicans had treated the constitution like a piece of paper: “As your congressman I pledge to stand up, to protect and defend the constitution of the US and to safeguard the civil liberties of this great country.”
In 2008, Obama defeated McCain by 9% in New Hampshire, both Democratic Congressmen were re-elected, and in a major blow for the GOP, Sen. John Sununu (R) was defeated by former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (D), who received 52% of the vote. The polls had Sununu leading until the Wall Street meltdown in September of 2008.
Open U.S. Senate Seat – Democrat Paul Hodes and Republicans Kelly Ayotte, Bill Binnie, Jim Bender and Ovide Lamontagne
Senator Judd Gregg (R), who declined President Obama’s offer to serve as Secretary of Commerce, is retiring after three terms. In the most recent Rasmussen Poll, all four GOP candidates are defeating Democratic nominee Paul Hodes in a general election. The primary is on September 14th, and every Republican candidate is describing themselves as a conservative.
Former Attorney General Kelly Ayotte (R) is considered the frontrunner and has had a consistent lead in the polls. The race was expected to be much closer at this point.
The real challenge for Ayotte is the GOP primary. Ayotte, 42, is the choice of regular Republicans, but candidates identified with the GOP establishment have been defeated or withdrew this year in Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Nevada and Utah. Colorado and Alaska may soon be added to this list.
Ayotte was appointed Attorney General in 2004 and resigned in 2009 when she began her Senate campaign. She has never faced an election. The state’s largest newspaper, the conservative New Hampshire Union Leader, named her its 2008 “Citizen of the Year.”
Ayotte has been endorsed by Senators Judd Gregg and John McCain (R-AZ), former Sen. Warren Rudman (NH) and former GOP Gov. Steve Merrill (1992 – 1996). She has spoken of her opposition to the stimulus, Obamacare, earmarks and the Elena Kagan nomination to the Supreme Court.
The most serious challenger to Ayotte is Bill Binnie, who already has a $600,000 fundraising advantage. Binnie, 52, is the President of Carlisle Capital Corporation. He has a Harvard MBA and at 32 was the youngest CEO on the New York Stock Exchange.
He is pro-choice and as a legal immigrant from Scotland at the age of five, favors a path to legal immigration. He has twice won the famed auto race, the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Binnie’s campaign is being assisted by over $3 million in personal loans from the candidate.
Also in the race is Ovide Lamontagne, an attorney, who served as Chairman of the State Board of Education from 1993-1996. He was the 1996 GOP gubernatorial candidate and was defeated by Jeanne Shaheen by a 57% to 40% margin. He has been endorsed by former Sen. Gordon Humphrey (R-NH). The final candidate is businessman Jim Bender. He also has an MBA from Harvard raised an impressive $600,000 in the last quarter.
Democrat Hodes has raised more than $1 million inside New Hampshire and is expected to beat Shaheen’s 2008 fundraising performance.
First Congressional District:
In the first district, Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D) has a fundraising edge but is running slightly behind in the polls. She won this seat in 2006 by defeating moderate Rep. Jeb Bradley (R). The Congresswoman received a little over 51% of the vote in 2006, and a little under 52% in 2008.
She first achieved prominence in 2005 for her activities in opposition to the Iraq War. The Congresswoman is now a firm opponent of President Obama’s Afghan surge. She is also one of the most anti-defense members of the Armed Services Committee.
She received national attention last summer when she refused to hold town hall meetings during the August recess. This was ironic because in the years leading up to the 2006 campaign, she hounded then Congressman Bradley at his town hall meetings.
Shea-Porter was once forcibly removed from a gathering in Portsmouth for aggressive protesting. The speaker was President George W. Bush, and she was wearing a shirt that read, “Turn your back on Bush.”
She always said the Iraq surge would fail, and once protested in front of the State House in Concord alongside demonstrators who compared Bush to a Nazi. Rep. Shea-Porter attended more of her opponents town hall meetings as a candidate than she has held during her four years in Congress.
Fox News placed her photo on a milk carton last summer to dramatize her failure to meet with constituents at public gatherings during the recess. The Congresswoman did find time to visit Pittsburgh, PA for the Daily Kos/Netroots Nation convention of liberal bloggers.
She told them her constituents “would love to wait in line for medical care.” Shea-Porter has a 38% favorable, and a 37% unfavorable rating.
In the GOP primary, the two leading candidates are former Manchester Mayor Frank Guinta, 39, and newspaper publisher Sean Mahoney. Mahoney, 44, previously served as the state’s Republican National Committeeman, and was endorsed by the current Manchester Mayor, Ted Gatsas. The political rating agencies list this seat as “Leaning Republican.”
Second Congressional District
This is the district Congressman Hodes is vacating. Former Rep. Charles Bass (R), who was defeated by Hodes four years ago, is attempting a comeback and has outdistanced his primary contenders in fundraising.
He is regarded as the frontrunner and the political rating agencies are also listing this seat as “Leaning Republican.” Bass is being challenged in the primary by former State Rep. Bob Giuda and the 2008 nominee, Jennifer Horn.
The most interesting contest is the Democratic primary. Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett has $1.2 million in cash on hand, and when she sought this seat in 2002, she raised $1.6 million. She would be a strong candidate for the Democrats, but will probably lose the nomination to “progressive community activist” Ann McLane Kuster, who has $735,000 in cash on hand.
Kuster, 54, an attorney, was a Co-Chairman of the New Hampshire Obama campaign, and is definitely more liberal than Swett. The Democratic candidates disagree on the Afghan surge, nuclear power and gay marriage. Swett supports civil unions while Kuster is for “marriage equality.” The divide between moderate and liberal Democrats was emphasized in a 2007 article about Swett in the Concord Monitor:
Swett believes Sen. Joseph Lieberman (CT) lost the 2004 presidential nomination because of three perceived Democratic “sins”: the sin of supporting the Iraq war and being tough on defense, the sin of being bipartisan and the sin of displaying religious faith. Swett said those traits might make Lieberman undesirable to many Democrats but they could be key for Democrats in winning future national elections.
Swett, 55, is the mother of seven children. She is on the faculty at Tufts University, and previously served on the staff of the Senate Judiciary Committee. She is a Yale graduate, an attorney, and has a doctorate in history.
Her husband is the district’s former Congressman and he came close to being elected to the U.S. Senate. He also served as U.S. Ambassador to Denmark.
Her father is the late Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA), who was Chairman of the House International Relations Committee at the time of his death in February of 2008. Lantos was the only Holocaust survivor to have served in Congress. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by George W. Bush.
The liberals have good reasons to oppose Swett. She was a National Co-Chair of the Joe Lieberman for President Committee in 2004. She also endorsed Lieberman for re-election to the Senate in 2006 after he was defeated in the Democratic Primary.
Lieberman lost to Ned Lamont, who Swett described as a “pretty-far-left-of-center-Democrat.” Lamont is expected to be elected Governor of Connecticut this November.
The influential liberal website BlueHampshire has endorsed Kuster and says: “If Swett wins the nomination, a truly Herculean effort will be required for the Democratic base to come together.” In reviewing this race, liberal activist Howard Klein of Blue America says:
One has to wonder why Katrina hasn’t officially joined the Republican Party. She instead, keeps trying to get into office as a Democrat so she can vote with them across the aisle. Swett and other similar faux-Democrats who support Lieberman, also support Big Insurance over American working families. They support aggressive wars overseas.