2012 Hopefuls Provide ’10 Boost for N.H. GOP

Posted October 4, 2010 at 6:31pm

The Granite State is used to visits from politicians with presidential aspirations. But rarely has the influx of out-of-towners meant more than it does this year for New Hampshire Republicans, who are fighting for a November sweep in the swing state that could play prominently in the balance of power on Capitol Hill.

At least 20 times so far this cycle, ambitious GOP governors and politicians from the likes of Mississippi, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Indiana have trekked to New Hampshire, boosting fundraising and credibility for local Republicans up and down the ballot, while also boosting their own following in a state that will host the nation’s first presidential primary in 2012.

On the Democratic side, with little competition expected for the White House, just a handful of big names have visited New Hampshire, which features tight races in both House seats and an open Senate seat, not to mention its first competitive gubernatorial race in six years.

The flood of ambitious Republicans, which has intensified since June, has generated tens of thousands of dollars for the local GOP infrastructure. And some say it has widened an enthusiasm gap among the always-unpredictable New Hampshire electorate, giving the GOP a distinct edge.

‘All of the major candidates have been extremely helpful in allowing us to raise the resources we need to win in November and getting exposure for our candidates,’ said Ryan Williams, spokesman for the New Hampshire Republican Party. ‘It also gets our supporters actively engaged before the Democrats. They’re excited to see national figures come to the state.’

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, for example, has visited New Hampshire five times since April, headlining three fundraisers for the state GOP and another for the Republican state House political action committee.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty also has made the 1,400-mile trip from St. Paul four times since last December, appearing at a March fundraiser for the Manchester City Committee, another in July for the state GOP and two more last week for Republican gubernatorial hopeful John Stephen and 1st Congressional district candidate Frank Guinta, who’s trying to unseat Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D).

Other multiple-trippers so far include Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and former Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.); Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is scheduled to make two stops next week, and South Dakota Sen. John Thune might not be far behind.

The Guinta camp reports that the Sept. 30 Pawlenty event ­’ a luncheon at Manchester’s Radisson Hotel ‘ raised $12,000. And perhaps more importantly, it attracted more than 80 people from across the sprawling district.

‘We had half a dozen people come in from the far northern end of our district, Conway, more than two hours away,’ Guinta spokesman Brett Bosse said. ‘It’s a win-win for everybody. If they see someone linked to a potential presidential run ‘ Tim Pawlenty is in New Hampshire for Frank Guinta ‘ it boosts our name ID and credibility. It also gives rumored candidates a good boost in the state.’

Indeed, Pawlenty announced to the Twitter world that he was speaking at the Guinta event as it was going on. That same day he tweeted that he was ‘talking economic issues with a small business owner from the Granite State.’

And the benefits for local Republicans extend beyond face time.

Romney’s Free and Strong America PAC last month donated a total of $40,000 to 33 individual campaigns up and down New Hampshire’s ballot, from Congressional candidates to the state Senate and even executive council. Pawlenty’s Freedom First PAC largely did the same, giving donations from $250 to $5,000 for a host of offices all the way down to county sheriff.

Democrats are quick to point out that the strategy presents risks for some local Republican candidates, depending on the identity of the visiting pol.

That’s certainly the case with former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, whose endorsement of GOP Senate candidate Kelly Ayotte drew fire from local Democrats and Republicans alike earlier in the year. Polling by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center suggests that she’s deeply unpopular in the state.

The Ayotte campaign, which previously told Roll Call she was ‘proud’ to have Palin’s backing, said Monday there are no plans for a Palin visit, but that she had an open invitation.

Democrats hope Palin comes.

‘Is Team Ayotte telling their Mama Grizzly to keep quiet, given her abysmal approval ratings in New Hampshire? Or is Sarah Palin just not enthused with her chosen Granite Grizzly?’ Emily Browne, spokeswoman for the New Hampshire Democratic Party, said in a statement late last week. ‘There’s a deluge of 2012 Republican ambition sweeping across New Hampshire, but the ultimate Tea Party darling is noticeably leaving Ms. Ayotte and the NH GOP high and dry.’

Separately, Browne downplayed the impact of GOP dignitaries, adding that Vice President Joseph Biden has visited New Hampshire twice this cycle, President Bill Clinton attended a December event and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) is in the state this week to help Democratic Senate candidate Rep. Paul Hodes.

Further, Browne noted that the state Democratic Party has significantly outraised the state GOP this cycle. Campaign finance records confirm that analysis, but also show that the state committees had almost identical cash-on-hand totals at the end of last month.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Party’s biggest fundraiser, President Barack Obama, has yet to visit New Hampshire this year.