Republicans took a hard look at their party after the 2012 election, and not everyone liked what they saw.
As the Republican National Committee’s “Growth and Opportunity Project” report put it, “The Republican Party needs to stop talking to itself. We have become expert in how to provide ideological reinforcement to like-minded people, but devastatingly we have lost the ability to be persuasive with, or welcoming to, those who do not agree with us on every issue.”
But many conservatives have argued that a watered-down message won’t win elections. As radio host Rush Limbaugh said back in March, “The Republican Party lost because it’s not conservative; it didn’t get its base out. People say they need to moderate their tone – they don’t.”
That argument has intensified since the 16-day government shutdown and debt-ceiling showdown came to an end last week. And New Hampshire’s 1st Congressional District, where Democratic Rep. Carol Shea-Porter is running for a fourth term in 2014, could become a battleground in what some pundits have labeled the “GOP Civil War.”
Frank Guinta is running to reclaim his old seat in the House, which he won by beating Shea-Porter in 2010 and lost in a rematch two years later.
Guinta rode the Tea Party wave of 2010 into Congress, but he angered some conservative supporters by voting in 2011 to raise the debt ceiling. He could face a challenge from the right by someone like radio host Jeff Chidester, who has said he’s considering a run next year.
But Guinta already has a primary opponent: University of New Hampshire business-school dean Dan Innis, who’s offering a measured tone – if not a moderate agenda – in his first run for elected office.
“I think the best way to move forward is to stay true to the conservative values that have held together the party for so long. . . . I think the key is getting the message out to folks and getting them to understand,” Innis said Friday. “Because once people understand what the party stands for, they understand the message, they get behind it.”
Innis describes himself as an “absolute supporter of the Second Amendment.” He’s wary of the U.S. Senate’s immigration-reform bill, saying he’s not sure it does enough to prevent illegal immigration. He wants to repeal President Obama’s 2010 health care reform law.
But while Guinta opposes gay marriage and abortion without exceptions, Innis is married to a man and supports a ban on abortions after 20 weeks but otherwise thinks “it should be a decision between a woman and her doctor and God.”
He said Obamacare “clearly is a bad law.” But, he said, “until we control the White House and the Senate, we’re not going to be able to repeal it. So we’ve got to be realistic.”
And if he had been in Congress last week, Innis said he – unlike most House Republicans – would have voted for the deal that ended the government shutdown and averted a potential national default.
“I would voted to lift the debt ceiling and reopen the government,” Innis said. “I think closing it in the first place was probably not the best idea.”
(Guinta declined to be interviewed last week. He told the New Hampshire Union Leader in September that he supported the House Republican effort to link funding the government to defunding Obamcare.)
The 1st District is a swing district in a swing state, switching from Republican to Democratic control in 2006, back to Republican in 2010 and back to Democratic in 2012.
A University of New Hampshire Survey Center poll taken Oct. 7-16 found Shea-Porter leading both Guinta and Innis in head-to-head races: 48 percent to 32 percent for Guinta, 43 percent to 32 percent for Innis, with a 5.4 percent margin of error. But a New England College poll taken Oct. 7-9 showed a closer race, with 43 percent for Shea-Porter versus 42 percent for Guinta with a 3.3 percent margin of error.
“Although often underestimated, Shea-Porter has been a winner, except for the Republican wave that wiped out Democrats across the board in New Hampshire,” wrote Nathan L. Gonzales in last week’s Rothenberg Political Report. “But her 49.8 percent victory in 2012 showed that the congresswoman has very little margin for error.”
As for the primary, Guinta’s name recognition is an asset. That NEC poll showed Guinta with 54 percent of the vote versus 7 percent for Chidester and 6 percent for Innis, with a 4.8 percent margin of error.
But the UNH poll found that while Innis is largely unknown, Guinta is somewhat unpopular, with 34 percent of 1st District residents viewing him unfavorably versus 24 percent who view him favorably. (Guinta’s more popular among self-identified Republicans, with 45 percent liking him versus 18 percent who dislike him.)
So Innis could gain ground in the coming months. Stay tuned for Jan. 31 — that’s the day fundraising reports for the fourth quarter are due to the Federal Election Commission.
Cash in hand
As for the third quarter, the fundraising reports filed with the FEC last week showed New Hampshire Democrats with a healthy head start on their Republican challengers in the 2014 money race.
Shea-Porter raised $183,000 in the third quarter and had $281,000 on hand as of Sept. 30. Innis got into the race too late to file a third-quarter report, and Guinta apparently decided to wait until the fourth quarter for any significant fundraising – he collected less than $2,000 in the third quarter with just $766.45 on hand.
In the 2nd District, Rep. Annie Kuster raised $329,000 and had $810,000 on hand at the end of the quarter. Gary Lambert formally kicked off his campaign Sept. 4 and brought in $174,000, with $173,000 on hand Sept. 30.
In the Senate race, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen raised $950,000 in the third quarter with $2.8 million on hand Sept. 30. Jim Rubens formally got into the race Sept. 18 and raised $17,000 in the third quarter. He also put in $253,000 of his own money, and had $261,000 on hand at the end of September. There was no word from Karen Testerman’s campaign.
Special session on tap
It’s been in the works since June, and now it’s official: the Legislature will hold a special session to vote on Medicaid expansion.
In her proclamation calling the Legislature back Nov. 7-21, Gov. Maggie Hassan said she “intends an agenda limited to the issue of a New Hampshire plan to expand Medicaid eligibility consistent with the Affordable Care Act.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean any other bills that lawmakers want to file are dead on arrival. But there’s little appetite among House or Senate leaders to engage in a pre-Thanksgiving free-for-all.
The early plan calls for special rules for the session to be adopted Nov. 7 and a joint House-Senate committee hearing to take public testimony on the Medicaid bill Nov. 12. The floor votes should come in the second week.
RGA vs. Hassan
Hassan’s poll numbers are good. Only a handful of Republicans are talking about challenging her next year. And despite failing in her push this spring to legalize casino gambling, she got to sign into law a new state budget that enjoyed almost unanimous support from both Democrats and Republicans.
But the Republican Governors Association, which spent millions last year on Ovide Lamontagne’s unsuccessful campaign for governor, isn’t ready to give her a free pass on re-election.
“Washington in chaos. Another government shutdown. Politicians threatening economic calamity. . . . Politicians in Washington don’t seem to grasp the basic idea that you can’t spend more money than you have. Sound familiar? You bet it does. That’s how Maggie Hassan governs, too,” a woman intones in an RGA web video released last week.
The video, complete with scary music, criticizes Hassan’s inclusion of casino-license revenue in her original budget proposal and raises the specter of a state income tax (which Hassan has said she’d veto).
The New Hampshire Democratic Party wasn’t impressed.
“It is beyond laughable that while forcing a federal government shutdown Washington Republicans are attacking a governor who passed a bipartisan budget with a nearly unanimous vote and consistently receives broad bipartisan support in public polls for the work she is doing for New Hampshire,” spokesman Harrell Kirstein said in a statement.
Looks like horse owners aggrieved by the state’s proposal to require horse riders to kick horse manure off state trails have another friend in the Senate.
Sen. David Boutin, a Hooksett Republican, has already been lobbying the Department of Resources and Economic Development to lighten up on horse riders. Now Sen. Andy Sanborn, a Bedford Republican, is filing a bill that would eliminate the manure-removal rule as well as a second proposal that horses be limited to trails that at least 8 feet wide.
“All the active horse riders that I’ve talked to know that at trail heads and parking lots, they should clean (manure) up,” Sanborn said.
He’s sympathetic to the many horse riders who have told him that once they are on the trail they can’t easily get off and on their horse without a mounting step, which they leave back at the parking lot.
“Poop happens,” Sanborn said. “And we all know that horse poop isn’t nearly as bad as dog poop.”
Expect Sanborn to argue against the trail-width proposal with just as much verve.
“If DRED had been around in Lewis and Clark times, we would never have discovered America,” Sanborn said. “To make any suggestion that people can’t ride horses in the woods flies in the face of our traditional values.”
Officials at DRED have continued to meet with horse owners and are taking comments on the proposed rule changes until Oct. 24.
Jon Huntsman will be back in the Granite State next month for a speech at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics.
The former Utah governor, U.S. ambassador to China and 2012 presidential candidate is scheduled to speak Nov. 25 on “U.S. and Asia: Current Political Trends and Opportunities.”
Huntsman camped out in New Hampshire ahead of last year’s presidential primary, finishing third before dropping out of the race. And it’s hard to see him running again in 2016 – “I might look crazy, but I’m not insane,” Huntsman said when asked the question at a conference in September.
But hey, you never know.
A special election was set last week to fill a state House seat representing Durham and Madbury.
Phil Ginsburg, a two-term Durham Democrat and member of the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, moved to Newmarket. That’s outside his district, so he resigned last month.
The Executive Council ordered a special election for Feb. 4, with a primary Dec. 17 that will become the special election if there’s only one candidate from each party.
Candidates can file for the race tomorrow through Friday.
News of record
∎ R.I.P.: Saghir “Saggy” Tahir, who represented Manchester’s Ward 2 in the House from 2000 to 2010, died last Wednesday at the age of 68.
∎ The New England Council last week named U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte a “New Englander of the Year.” She was one of four people to win this year’s award.
∎ The Business and Industry Association released its 2013 Legislative Scorecard. Twenty of the 24 state senators – 13 Republicans and seven Democrats – were named “Champions of Business,” along with 44 state representatives – 43 Republicans and one Democrat.
∎ Friday, 4 p.m., is the deadline for state senators to file draft bills or resolutions for the 2014 session.
(Annmarie Timmins contributed to this column. Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)