DSCC - Keene Sentinel: Senate race could still be a crowded one

Senate race could still be a crowded one

By David P. Greisman
Sentinel Staff

Published: Wednesday, July 08, 2009


Though the 2010 U.S. Senate race in New Hampshire is still light on certainty, the field of potential candidates is slowly taking shape.

Paul W. Hodes, a Concord Democrat who represents the 2nd District in the U.S. House of Representatives, announced his candidacy earlier this year.

John E. Sununu, a Republican from Waterville Valley who served one term in the U.S. Senate before losing in November to former N.H. governor Jeanne Shaheen, will not run, he said last week.

Kelly A. Ayotte, a Republican from Nashua, resigned Tuesday from her post as N.H. Attorney General to focus on looking into a Senate bid.

And other Republicans are pondering entering the race to fill the U.S. Senate seat presently held by Judd Gregg, a Rye Republican who is finishing his third term and will not go for a fourth in 2010.

“You seldom get an open Senate seat,” said Jennifer Donahue, political director for the N.H. Institute of Politics at St. Anselm College in Manchester.

“Add in the fact that it’s an open Senate seat in a midterm year when Republicans are likely to have pickups in either the House, the Senate or both — people get motivated,” Donahue said.

Hodes, meanwhile, is the lone Democrat on experts’ radar.

“I think he’s cleared the field of all the serious candidates,” said Andrew E. Smith, an associate professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire and director of the school’s survey center. “There may be some candidates who are more fringe candidates who decide to run.”

Had Sununu entered the race, he might have had the same effect on Republicans.

“He was the one guy with a lot of name recognition,” Smith said. “He’s just been through a race before. Well-known. Still liked. When he lost, he got swept up in a lot of the anti-Republican sentiment across the country in 2008.

“He would’ve been the front-runner had he decided to run,” Smith said. “I don’t think many Republicans would have tried to run.”

Instead, Sununu said he is focusing on other forms of work and public service, including roles with technology firms, nonprofit policy groups and a congressional panel overseeing federal stimulus spending.

With more than a year until voters go to the polls, an overwhelming majority are undecided about which Senate candidate they prefer, according to a recent Granite State Poll of 558 people conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center.

Four percent of those polled said they have definitely decided who to vote for. Eight percent said they are leaning toward a candidate. And 88 percent said they have considered some candidates but have not yet made a decision.

When asked about Ayotte, 45 percent of those polled had a favorable opinion of her, compared to 8 percent unfavorable, 7 percent neutral and 40 percent not knowing enough about her to say.

As for Hodes, 32 percent of those polled had a favorable opinion of him, compared to 23 percent unfavorable, 8 percent neutral and 37 percent not knowing enough about him to say.

“Neither are particularly well known,” Smith said. “But the fact she doesn’t have the unfavorable is a big advantage. The reason is because she’s attorney general. Her job is to arrest bad guys and put them in jail. She has a job that allows her the opportunity to build a positive image.”

And Ayotte has a lot of support among law enforcement at the state and local levels, Smith said.

“They’d like to work with her,” he said. “Those are potential foot soldiers in an election, and people respected within their communities.”

There are several Republican names Ayotte could end up facing in a primary election, according to Donahue and Smith.

Among them are Richard E. Ashooh, a member of the University System of New Hampshire board of trustees; Ovide Lamontagne, who lost to Jeanne Shaheen in the 1996 gubernatorial race; Sean Mahoney, a member of the Republican National Committee; and Fred Tausch, who is heading STEWARD of Prosperity, an organization advocating fiscal discipline.

None has declared his candidacy.

Ashooh is “a longtime Republican, political operative behind the scenes,” Smith said. “He’s talked about running.”

Lamontagne “would pretty much define the most conservative side of the race in a Republican primary,” Donahue said.

Mahoney is not well known among voters, Donahue said, even though he ran in 2002 for a seat representing the 1st District in the U.S. House, losing in his party’s primary.

“But he knows how to run a campaign,” she said. “If he entered, he’d be a competitive primary challenger.”

And Tausch is “the one person who will probably run regardless of whether Ayotte runs,” Smith said.

Also among the potential candidates is Charles F. Bass, the former U.S. House member from Peterborough who has said he is considering running either for Senate or to regain the 2nd District seat he held from 1995 to 2007.

Voters were also asked about Bass, Lamontagne and Tausch in the recent Granite State Poll.

Of Bass, 33 percent of those polled had a favorable opinion of him, compared to 23 percent unfavorable, 10 percent neutral and 34 percent not knowing enough about him to say.

Lamontagne had 10 percent favorable, compared to 6 percent unfavorable, 7 percent neutral and 77 percent not knowing enough about him to say.

And Tausch had 5 percent favorable, compared to 4 percent unfavorable, 7 percent neutral and 85 percent not knowing enough about him to say.