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Who wants New Hampshire’s top job?
A look at the 2012 governor’s race

07/28/11



While candidates and interested parties on both sides of the political aisle wait, patiently so far, for Gov. John Lynch to decide whether he’ll run for a fifth term in 2012, the potential field appears to be coming together somewhat.

Though the presidential primary is stealing political headlines right now in New Hampshire, it seems like a good time to take stock of the gubernatorial race.

It would be easy to assume that if Lynch doesn’t run for a fifth term, Democrats would be in trouble in that race. Prospective GOP candidates seem to have more name recognition than their potential Democratic counterparts. With the GOP still sliding heavily to the right in terms of cutting spending and the size of government, there would seem to be a rather large political gap available to a Democratic candidate who can write his or her story as tough on spending but also compassionate to the needs of the state. (Kind of sounds like the same space Lynch currently occupies, doesn’t it?) It wouldn’t seem that a Democratic campaign leaning heavily leftward would be successful.

If Lynch doesn’t run, and he hasn’t given any indication either way, it would seem a safe bet that former senator Maggie Hassan would run. She told the Portsmouth Herald this month she is considering running if Lynch doesn’t. Steve Marchand, former Portsmouth mayor, is another possibility on the Democratic side, though he hasn’t been as vocal in his consideration as Hassan. Mark Connolly is another name to keep an eye on.

Democrats have to play the wait-and-see game with Lynch, knowing he’s their best chance to keep the corner office. He’s not a sure thing but it would be terribly difficult to unseat him in a presidential election year.

GOP names

It would probably be shocking to the New Hampshire political world if Ovide Lamontagne were to opt out of running, regardless of whether Lynch runs again. Lamontagne gained major notoriety, and apparently kingmaker status in the presidential primary, after losing to Sen. Kelly Ayotte in a tight GOP primary last year. His graciousness in defeat served him well, but it was his third defeat, including a failed attempt at the corner office in 1990s.

Beyond Lamontagne, John Stephen, who ran a tough campaign against Lynch last year but who is also a three-time loser, is likely considering another run. Then there’s possibly state Sen. Jeb. Bradley, who has taken a high-profile role in the senate on various bills, notably retirement reform. Bradley is a former U.S. congressman who lost to former representative Carol Shea-Porter in 2006 and then again in 2008.

It was last month that Lamontagne reached out to Stephen and Bradley to talk about their 2012 plans. Reports indicate that Lamontagne has been making inquiries to see what kind of support he’d have statewide. As perhaps the most conservative candidate in the Senate primary last year, Lamontagne might have a tough go of it against Lynch, who is a moderate Democrat and still decidedly popular in the state.

And then last week, a website, www.kevinsmithforgovernor.com, was launched by unknown parties. Kevin Smith is the executive director of Cornerstone Policy Research in Concord. He probably doesn’t have the name recognition of Lamontagne, Stephen or Bradley, but Cornerstone is a powerful launching pad. He could push the conservative envelope if he were to join the race. Smith told the Union Leader he is seriously considering running but he didn’t know who was behind the website.

Political analyst Dante Scala previously said that if Lamontagne had beaten Ayotte in the primary, he would have won the general election. But 2012 could be a different animal: it might not be a race to be the most conservative.

State politics do seem to be overshadowed by presidential primary news, but it would be interesting to see if anyone other than Lamontagne jumps out of that group to go after Lynch or tries to gain publicity in any other way. So far, the other candidates have stayed mum on their plans and haven’t really been in attack mode. Lamontagne has hinted several times publicly that he’s expecting to run.

Taking down Lynch

Certainly the preference of Democratic officials is that Lynch runs again. If the GOP couldn’t take him down in 2010, when every Democrat was vulnerable, it’s difficult to see how they do it 2012, unless there’s some dramatic turn of events.

If Lynch does run, it will be tough for any Republican to beat him. In the most recent University of New Hampshire Granite State Poll, Lynch held a 65-percent approval rating, compared to the 23 percent of residents who disapproved. The poll also revealed that Lynch received majority support from independents and Republicans in the state. That is not good news for the GOP.

According to a Public Policy Polling head-to-head poll, Lynch leads Bradley by 19 points, Lamontagne by 18 points and former senator John Sununu by 11 points. (Many Republicans would be thrilled, surely, to have Sununu run.) Reports indicated Public Policy Polling can have a Democratic tilt.

The Public Policy Polling poll also revealed that Republican candidates stack up well against possible candidates other than Lynch, with nearly all prospective GOP candidates winning their head-to-head match-ups with prospective Democrats, including Hassan, Connolly and Marchand. An article on the Daily Kos notes that Democratic candidates are less known than their GOP counterparts.

But that’s not to say it would be a done deal for Republicans if Lynch were not to run. Hassan, former senate majority leader, was seen as an up-and-comer prior to her senate defeat last year who had higher aspirations. Of course, running from a senate seat is an easier platform than not having one.

But while the 2010 election was a race to the right, a race to cut back spending, there’s real animosity from many regarding how deep the cuts went in this year’s budget process. That’s where there appears to be room for a moderate candidate who focuses on curtailing spending while also showing a little more compassion.
There’s still time for candidates to introduce themselves to voters. Stephen had name recognition problems in his campaign last time around but was still nearly able to knock off Lynch. There’s still an opportunity for candidates to make themselves known.

Ticket-toppers

It won’t just be Lynch at the top of the ticket this time around. It will also be Obama — that’s obviously a big help for Democrats. Obama’s popularity in New Hampshire has waned some — according to a University of New Hampshire poll this month, 49 percent of residents disapprove of the job he’s doing, while 46 percent approve — but a presidential election is going to drive turnout, whereas last year’s mid-term election didn’t do so in nearly the same way.

Obviously, Republicans will have a presidential candidate at the top of the ticket as well that will certainly help them, but Obama’s get-out-the-vote effort in 2008 kind of speaks for itself. Still, Obama’s power from the top of the ticket probably won’t be as strong as it was in 2008.
Stay tuned.






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