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GOP Continues Candidate Search in N.H. Senate Race

Even with a new poll showing Republicans competitive in the New Hampshire Senate race and Rep. Paul Hodes (D) — the only announced candidate — getting off to a slow fundraising start, the GOP doesn’t appear to be any closer to sorting out who will carry the party’s banner next year.

Hodes posted one of the worst first-quarter fundraising performances of any Democratic Senate candidate this year. Meanwhile, a recent poll showed the Congressman trailing Sen. Judd Gregg (R) and former Sen. John Sununu (R) — a result that many could argue is understandable given the fact that both Republicans have been elected statewide.

But Gregg is not running again, and it doesn’t look like Sununu is ready to re-enter political life either — or at least he won’t make a decision about it for a long time. While Hodes continues to run and fundraise, Republicans are still searching for their silver bullet candidate.

“You look at the landscape and you’d think there would be an opportunity for somebody who could come out of the blue and move themselves,— said Greg Moore, a Republican consultant in the state.

According to a recent Granite State poll, Sununu led Hodes in a head-to-head matchup, 46 percent to 41 percent, with 11 percent of voters undecided. Gregg led Hodes by an even larger margin, 52 percent to 36 percent, with 10 percent undecided. The survey took the opinion of 503 adults in New Hampshire from April 13 to 22 and had a margin of error of 4 points.

Senate Republicans don’t expect Sununu to run again in 2010. Although the former Senator has not completely closed the door to a bid, national Republicans are continuing with candidate recruitment under the assumption that he is not interested in running.

A source close to Sununu said that if he runs, he will likely take a page out of the playbook of the woman who defeated him in 2008: Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. When Democratic leadership put the full-court press on Shaheen to run for the seat, she did not discourage any other candidates from running while she made her decision. When Shaheen finally got into the race, she almost instantly cleared the Democratic field.

“First of all, you’ve got a situation in which people are waiting to see what Johnny Sununu does,— Moore said. “I think he would be the strongest, barring a change of heart by Judd Gregg.—

National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Brian Walsh expressed confidence that the committee would find a candidate to run against Hodes.

“We are actively recruiting and are confident that at the end of the day that this will be a very competitive race and we’ll keep it in the Republican column,— Walsh said.

But in the meantime, Republicans have been forced to look elsewhere in the Granite State.

Several Republicans mentioned that former Gov. Steve Merrill, who served from 1993 to 1997, could be interested in running. In another blast from the GOP past, 1996 gubernatorial candidate Ovide Lamontagne is also seriously considering running for the seat.

Both Washington, D.C., and New Hampshire Republicans also mentioned Republican National Committeeman Sean Mahoney as a possibility. The wealthy businessman could throw some of his own money into the race as well — an enticing option for Republicans considering he would likely be facing an incumbent Congressman.

And in a phone interview, former Rep. Charles Bass (R) also appeared to be interested in running for either his former 2nd district House seat, which Hodes now represents, or for Senate.

“I’m continuing to consider it, and I’m getting out and around talking to my friends and supporters and trying to get a feel for the political atmosphere up here,— he said. “I think it’s getting better by the day.—

Bass, a moderate, said he has started to meet with supporters every other week to discuss running for either Senate or the House seat. He said the more he reaches out to people, the more he’s encouraged to look at running — but he wants to make sure his candidacy would be well-received by voters.

“If that’s the kind of formula they like when they hear it — no holds barred, I’m not making excuses — I’ll be a candidate,— he said.

Bass said he has kept in touch with the National Republican Congressional Committee and House GOP leadership but is still looking to meet with NRSC Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) before the end of the month.

Some Republicans say Bass appears to be more interested in his former House seat. The former Congressman denied he was more interested in running for one office over the other.

“I think Charlie’s trying to position himself to run if Sununu doesn’t but, in case Sununu does, make it look like he’s been running for the House seat all along,— a New Hampshire Republican operative said.

Hodes only raised $265,000 in his first quarter as a Senate candidate — the second-worst showing of any Democratic Senate candidate.

New Hampshire Democrats chalk up the slow fundraising start to the political situation in the state. Not only was Gregg making headlines by accepting and then later refusing a post as President Barack Obama’s Commerce secretary, but Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D) did not rule out running for Senate until late in the quarter.

“I can tell you that we’re proud of what we’ve accomplished this quarter, and the Congressman has received tremendous support from Granite Staters,— Hodes spokesman Mark Bergman said. “He’s confident he’s going to have the resources he needs to get the message out in November of 2010.—

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