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Democratic Gains in 2006 Expanded the Party’s Bench

If political parties recruit players from the bench to run for office, then New Hampshire is playing a whole different sport than most other states.

[IMGCAP(1)]The state Legislature boasts 424 members, making it an awe-inspiring feat to win office above and beyond the local level in the Granite State. New Hampshire only has three statewide elected officials, the governor and the two U.S. Senators, while others, such as the state treasurer and the attorney general, are appointed.

As a result, candidates are often recruited from the small-business or unelected political community, New Hampshire Republican Party Chairman Fergus Cullen said. None of the five main elected officials, governor and the four Members of Congress served in the Legislature.

Cullen named many in his party who he thought have a future either running for Congress or governor someday, though he expressed anxiety about jinxing their candidacies.

“With all due respect, I hate these articles,” Cullen said. “Because it’s the kiss of death for people with great political futures.”

Nonetheless, Cullen suggested former state Sen. Bruce Keough (R), who ran for governor in 2002 and lost in the primary, might have another run in him. He also named Manchester Mayor Frank Guinta (R) as a possible candidate for the 1st district Congressional seat now held by Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D), and he could also be a good candidate for Senate should Sen. Judd Gregg (R) decide to retire in 2010.

GOP insiders also named Attorney General Kelly Ayotte (R), who was appointed to office by a Republican governor and then re- appointed by Gov. John Lynch (D), as a possible candidate for the 2nd district or for governor. Ayotte is from Nashua and is known for being apolitical on the job and, according to her fans, has a résumé that includes prosecuting murder cases and arguing before the Supreme Court.

Air Force pilot Jim Forsythe (R) might have been a supporter of Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) during the presidential campaign, but that doesn’t make him a fringe candidate in New Hampshire. Just like Paul, Forsythe has fundraising prowess and raised more than $100,000 before he dropped out of the 1st district Congressional race.

In the business community, TurboCam President Marian Noronha (R) might also run for Congress some day in the 1st district. One GOP operative speculated that had Health Commissioner John Stephen (R) not run for the GOP nod against ex-Rep. Jeb Bradley (R) in the 1st district, Noronha would have taken a stab at the seat.

Former state Sen. Chuck Morse (R) might also run for office. An operative said Morse will likely look at governor or the 2nd district in 2010 if they’re not in Republican hands. Currently, however, four Republicans are in a primary to take on freshman 2nd district Rep. Paul Hodes (D) this fall.

And regardless of any retirement rumors surrounding Gregg, Democrats are unlikely to take a pass at challenging him in 2010. New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley pointed to any of the current elected officials as possible challengers to Gregg.

“Gov. Lynch or either Member of Congress would have first dibs on the nomination,” Buckley said. “That said, it wouldn’t mean other people wouldn’t be looking at it.”

For Congress, operatives look to state President Pro Tem Maggie Hassen (D), from Exeter, as a likely candidate for the 1st district should Shea-Porter ever leave office. Also on the short list is former Portsmouth Mayor Steve Marchand (D), who was running in this year’s Senate Democratic primary until former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (D) got into the race. State Speaker Terri Norelli (D) of Portsmouth could also look at the 1st district.

The 2nd district leans more Democratic than the 1st, and therefore has an even deeper bench of potential candidates for the party, Buckley said. State Senate President Sylvia Larsen (D), from Concord, along with Majority Leader Joe Foster (D), from Nashua, could potentially run for the 2nd district if Hodes left office to run for Senate.

Former astronaut Jay Buckey (D) impressed people with his Senate campaign before he dropped out earlier this year. His campaign manager, Lebanon Mayor Karen Liot Hill (D), could run for the 2nd district seat.

Also a veteran of the Senate race, Katrina Swett (D), wife of former Rep. Dick Swett (D-N.H.) and daughter of the late Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), has run for Congress before and could do so again.

Buckley said that this cycle — after Democrats swept many key offices in 2006 — he’s happy to have strength in numbers.

“I really think that I’m the first Democratic chair in generations to say that we actually have a bench, so it’s very exciting,” Buckley said.