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Open-Seat Dominos Fall

Who doesn’t want to be a candidate in New Hampshire these days?

With an open Senate seat and at least one open House seat, the Granite State does not lack opportunities to run for federal office in 2010.

Several candidates have expressed interest in running for Rep. Paul Hodes’ 2nd district seat, now that the two-term Democrat has announced he’s running for Senate.

But that might not be the only open House seat next year. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D) is also interested in running to replace retiring Sen. Judd Gregg (R), which could leave her competitive 1st district seat up for grabs as well.

Hodes’ seat is considered to be the easier hold of the two for Democrats because of the district’s demographics, but both could host top-tier races next year and a lot will depend on who decides to run.

Rep. Charlie Bass (R), whom Hodes defeated in 2006 by a 7-point margin, has expressed interest in running for his old seat, but he is also mulling a Senate bid.

“If I feel like people here in New Hampshire are ready for a right-of-center pragmatist, then I’ll consider running,— Bass said.

Bass added that if he runs for his old House seat and wins it, he’ll be able to use his six terms of seniority to return to his work on the Energy and Commerce Committee where, he said, he was “rudely interrupted— by his re-election loss. Nonetheless, Bass cautioned that he would not make a decision for a while, but certainly before the June 2010 filing deadline.

“Am I at a point where I can make a decision about whether to run for House or the Senate?— Bass said. “I’m not ready to make a decision yet about running at all.—

The 2008 GOP nominee from the 2nd district, radio host Jennifer Horn, also confirmed that she was “seriously considering— running for the open House seat.

“I have been receiving daily encouragement from folks all over the district for which I am very grateful,— Horn wrote in an e-mail. “As with all important choices, I will take my time, confer with my family, and make a decision in due time.—

Although Horn has also been tossed around as a possible candidate for Senate in 2010, a well-placed source said she was “leaning very heavily— toward running for the House. The source added that although a Bass candidacy could make Horn reconsider her ambitions for the 2nd district, his candidacy would not preclude her from running again for the seat.

State Sen. Bob Clegg, the runner-up in the crowded 2008 GOP primary, also confirmed he is “seriously considering— running again for Hodes’ seat.

And there are still more Republicans who could run for the 2nd district seat: former state Sen. Chuck Morse and state Sen. Bob Odell are also believed to be considering a bid. Morse, the former chairman of the state Senate finance committee, is the more conservative Republican, while Odell is the most moderate member of the GOP caucus.

Several Democrats are also lining up to be Hodes’ successor. Democrats’ 2002 nominee, Katrina Swett, has already formed an exploratory committee. Swett is the daughter of the late Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) and dropped out of the 2008 Senate race when now-Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) declared her candidacy and cleared the field. Swett would start off with a financial advantage because she has close to $1 million in her campaign account left over from previous races.

Democrats’ gubernatorial nominee from 2002, Mark Fernald, is also likely running in the 2nd district. State Senate President Sylvia Larsen and Executive Councilor Deb Pignatelli are also very seriously considering a bid, as is Pignatelli’s husband, former Nashua Alderman Mike Pignatelli, and a handful of state Representatives.

A wild card for the nomination could be either Gary or Meg Hirshberg of Concord, both of whom are longtime Democratic activists and donors who run the Stonyfield Yogurt empire. Either Hirsberg has deep pockets and could self-finance a House bid in a relatively inexpensive state like New Hampshire.

But Hodes’ seat might not be the only one in play. New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley met individually with both Shea-Porter and Hodes in Washington, D.C., last week about the Senate race.

Shea-Porter has been publicly coy about a potential Senate bid — a move that could leave her competitive House seat up for grabs in addition to setting up a contentious Democratic primary. A longtime supporter of Shea-Porter, Gary Patton, said he would prefer to see Shea-Porter stay in the House because he doesn’t want Democrats to risk losing both House seats in 2010.

“If both of them ran, we stand a chance of losing both Congressional seats, which isn’t really an appealing alternative,— Patton said.

Should Shea-Porter go for it, a crowd of Democrats are ready to run in her stead. State Senate Majority Leader Maggie Hassan is at the top of that list, followed by former Portsmouth Mayor Steve Marchand and state Speaker Terie Norelli.

One of Shea-Porter’s former opponents, state Rep. Jim Craig (D), could also run, as well as several other candidates from Manchester — the state’s most populous city.

According to Republicans in the state, potential GOP candidates are not basing their decision on whether it’s an open seat. Shea-Porter defeated then-Rep. Jeb Bradley (R) in an upset in 2006, but more easily defeated him in their second matchup in 2008.

“Shea-Porter is not to be underestimated, but she’s also been a little bit lucky,— former state GOP Chairman Fergus Cullen said. “A lot of Republicans here think it’s easier to run against her than to run against somebody new.—

Bradley is unlikely to run again for the 1st district seat, leaving a wide-open field for Republican candidates.

Manchester Mayor Frank Guinta recently met with the National Republican Congressional Committee about potentially running for the seat, according to a source familiar with the meeting. Guinta is considered to be national Republicans’ top choice, but the 38-year-old mayor is also seriously considering a gubernatorial bid in 2010.

Republican National Committeeman Sean Mahoney might also look at running, although he is believed to be looking more closely at the Senate seat. Former Health Commissioner John Stephen (R), who lost a primary to Bradley in 2008, would likely run if the seat opens up.

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