While Anne McLane Kuster has appeared to be the presumptive Democratic nominee in the 2nd Congressional District in New Hampshire all along, things are less settled in the 1st District on the Democratic side.
Carol Shea-Porter, who lost to now-Rep. Frank Guinta last year by 12 percentage points, tossed her hat back into the ring. As soon as she did, analysts sounded like they weren’t sure she’d be running unopposed in a primary. That became reality, as Seacoast businesswoman Joanne Dowdell shortly thereafter announced her candidacy as well. More recently, Laconia businessman Andrew Hosmer decided to run as well. Hosmer ran for state senate last year.
Though Guinta did upset some conservatives with his recent vote on the debt ceiling package — he voted for it — it’s probably a long shot that he faces a serious primary challenge. So, for the Democrats, it’s probably a fight to see who faces off against the former Manchester mayor.
It won’t be easy for either Hosmer or Dowdell to take down Shea-Porter, who has an established campaign and grassroots fundraising structure. Shea-Porter spent two terms as congresswoman in the 1st District before losing to Guinta, and her name recognition is strong. She’s a fairly well-known commodity.
But with jobs and the economy at the heart of the discussion, both Hosmer and Dowdell may be able to use their business credentials to inject different perspectives into the race. All three will likely bang the drum of how Republicans — and in this case Guinta — ran on the economy and job creation, and that since they’ve been in Washington, the GOP hasn’t done anything to create jobs.
Holly Shulman, spokesman for the state Democratic Party, said the state party would not comment on the primary.
“It’s a very healthy exercise,” said Arnie Arnesen, host of Political Chowder, a political talk show. “It’s a way for Carol to get back in the saddle.”
“It’s important for [Shea-Porter] but it’s important to find out who is the best candidate,” Arnesen said. “I think primaries are important. I believe in choice.... It’s a democracy. It’s not inherited. It’s an elected seat.”
When Shea-Porter first ran, the discussion was all about George W. Bush. Any Republican was painted as being in lockstep with Bush. The discussion is different now. The primary serves as a place for Shea-Porter to refine her message and for Hosmer and Dowdell to craft theirs.
Just like she was able to tie Bradley to Bush, the GOP and Guinta may find it relatively easy to tie Shea-Porter to Obama and Nancy Pelosi. They might have a tougher time doing that with either of the other candidates, who most people don’t know much about right now.
“Just because you’ve been there doesn’t make you qualified or the best,” Arnesen said. “This is about testing people’s ideas, their agenda, their organizational skills....”
On his own
That candidates are taking on Shea-Porter could be perceived as indicating that she isn’t the strongest of candidates, but even if that is true, a primary still provides an opportunity for candidates to show some fight and passion — and to stay in the news. It can be more difficult to do that if a candidate is running solo.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte fought a negative battle with senate candidate Bill Binnie and nearly lost the primary to Ovide Lamontagne. But she quickly turned around and trounced Paul Hodes, who ran unopposed in his primary and had trouble getting attention in the face of the hotly contested GOP primary.
For the primary, an opponent-less Guinta would only have his record to talk about.
“These people [the Democratic contenders] can talk about the future. They can articulate new ideas. It’s hard to do that when you’re a solo performer,’ Arnesen said.
Many consider politicians to be most vulnerable the first time they are up for reelection.
The tea party movement could be creating a split in the GOP in New Hampshire. They want more and deeper cuts. Guinta faced a somewhat hostile crowd at a town hall event in Rochester earlier this month. Many were reportedly upset with his debt ceiling package vote. But one angry town hall doesn’t mean Guinta’s at risk of a primary or otherwise vulnerable.
Apples and oranges
In the 2nd District, it seems more like people are just ready for a rematch, particularly since the race between Rep. Charlie Bass and Kuster was so close in 2010.
The 2nd District is decidedly more liberal than the 1st District, which puts Bass in a vulnerable position regardless of what he does in Congress — and he is considered a moderate Republican. That, and that Kuster ran such an effective grassroots campaign last year, made for a narrow race, even in a wave election.
Analysts pointed out that Guinta did particularly well along the Route 101 corridor in 2010. The 1st District is not necessarily a hardcore conservative district, but Shea-Porter, if she’s the eventual nominee, may have even more work to do to unseat Guinta than she did when she first unseated then-congressman Jeb Bradley in 2006. This would appear to be a taller task, though she has always seemed to draw energy from people underestimating her.
She certainly did in 2006 as she gained momentum and energy challenging Bradley at his town hall meetings. She was the upstart then. She’s not going to be that this time around. In fact, however much Shea-Porter has tried to distance herself from this, she could be viewed by some as the establishment candidate in the primary.
Of course, the Obama effect is sort of the wild card right now. It’s difficult to know what the President’s approval rating will be in November 2012. If the economy continues to dip, the number of New Hampshire votes he receives probably will too. Conversely, if things pick up, Obama and other Democrats down the ticket will benefit from that.