For N.H. Republicans, Pain Is Probably Temporary

Posted October 30, 2013 at 5:05pm

These are tough times for New Hampshire Republicans. But if history is any lesson, their anguish will be brief.

In 2012, voters tossed both House GOP members, and Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen is already an early favorite to win re-election next year. Local Republicans continue to struggle with recruitment against Shaheen and in the gubernatorial race.

Republicans might have to wait a cycle or two before they can come roaring back from the dumps. After all, the GOP controlled both House seats just a year ago. That political moodiness means that opportunity abounds for the politically ambitious.

“When you’re looking at the landscape in New Hampshire right now, Democrats have a strong bench of candidates for federal and statewide office,” state Democratic Party spokesman Harrell Kirstein said. “When you look at the New Hampshire Republican Party, you’re seeing in a lot of ways the same split you’re seeing nationally.”

Shaheen’s re-election marks the most pressing priority for Granite State Republicans, who have yet to find a top candidate to challenger her. Former Rep. Jeb Bradley, a top GOP prospect, withdrew from consideration because of family illness.

Now many Republicans are focused on former Rep. Charles Bass, a Republican who lost re-election in 2012. Former state GOP Chairman Jack Kimball also named conservative activist Karen Testerman as the strongest tea party candidate in the field.

But the most exciting contest is two years away: Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte’s 2016 re-election.

“There is no question in my mind that she will garner a primary challenger,” said Kimball, a tea-party-aligned conservative who served a single year at the helm of the state’s GOP executive committee before members nearly ousted him.

Ayotte’s allies argue that any tea party challenger will not be a viable contender. After all, they say, it’s been hard enough for local activists to find a tea party candidate who could threaten Shaheen and Gov. Maggie Hassan this cycle — let alone a sitting GOP senator in 2016.

Republicans concede they are worried about Ayotte’s prospects in the 2016 general election. Democrats frequently mention Hassan as a potential challenger, along with freshman Rep. Ann McLane Kuster, Rep. Carol Shea-Porter and former Gov. John Lynch.

But Ayotte might have her eye on another office by that cycle. Her rise to national prominence means she is mentioned frequently as a vice presidential prospect. If Ayotte becomes her party’s vice presidential nominee, she is eligible to appear on the ballot twice in New Hampshire and run for re-election, according to the New Hampshire Secretary of State’s office.

Aside from the Senate, New Hampshire’s two House seats are perennially competitive. Former Rep. Frank Guinta is raring for a rematch against Shea-Porter in the 1st District. Guinta will first face University of New Hampshire Business School Dean Dan Innis in the Republican primary.

Down the road, Republicans named Executive Councilor Christopher T. Sununu, son of former Gov. John H. Sununu, and state Sens. Jeanie Forrester and Sharon Carson as future players in the 1st District.

Democrats point to U.S. Attorney for New Hampshire John P. Kacavas, state Attorney General Joseph Foster, state Sen. Andrew Hosmer, state Sen. Donna Soucy and Manchester Alderman Garth Corriveau as would-be successors to Shea-Porter someday.

In the slightly more liberal 2nd District, former state Sen. Gary Lambert is the most organized challenger to Kuster. Sources say that state Rep. Marilinda Garcia is also mulling a run. If Garcia passes, Republicans say she will be recruited to run again in the future.

Forrester could run in either House district because her legislative district straddles both. Several more Republicans — Nashua Mayor Donnalee Lozeau, state Sen. Bob Odell and former Executive Councilor Dan St. Hilaire — could also run in the 2nd District.

Democrats mentioned state Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern, Shaheen state director Mike Vlacich, former state Sen. Deborah Reynolds and Concord City Councilor Amanda Grady Sexton as potential heirs to Kuster’s seat if she leaves office.

There’s no shortage of candidates in New Hampshire, which boasts the largest legislative body in the country with a 400-member state House. The state is also known as a place where unknown politicians can quickly rise.

“New Hampshire’s a state that values person-to-person and town-to-town campaigning. Anybody can run for office. There’s no hierarchy,” GOP consultant Ryan Williams said. Williams is a former state GOP spokesman.

“There’s a long history of people running from outside of politics for Congress, governor and senator and winning because New Hampshire is a small state where if you knock on enough doors and have a good enough message, you can win,” Williams said.

Farm Team is a weekly, state-by-state look at the up-and-coming politicos who may eventually run for Congress.