By JOHN DISTASO
Senior Political Reporter
Portsmouth businessman Sean Mahoney told UnionLeader.com today he is “taking the next step in exploring” a candidacy for the state’s open U.S. Senate seat.
Mahoney, 43, is one of New Hampshire’s three representatives on the Republican National Committee and is the publisher of Business New Hampshire magazine. He has been the producer of the annual Made in New Hampshire Buy It-Try It Expo.
Mahoney is also a Portsmouth native who has long been active in state GOP politics -- including a stint as party finance chair -- but has never held elective office. He said that for the past several months, he has been quietly considering running for the seat being vacated next year by Republican Sen. Judd Gregg.
“Within the past several weeks, I have had conversations with a number of serious campaign professionals who are New Hampshire-based,” Mahoney told UnionLeader.com, naming veteran consultant David Carney of Hancock-based Norway Hill Associates.
Carney confirmed, “Yes, we have spoken and discussed his options. Sean would be a formidable candidate were he to enter the race. Mahoney’s background, experience and his values would track nicely with the expectations voters have for their next US Senator.
“With the field in flux and other serious candidates exploring their options,” Carney said, “one thing is clear: New Hampshire has a number of top tier candidates who may yet seek the open U.S. Senate seat.”
Mahoney said he intends to made a final decision on whether to run by Thanksgiving.
So far, former Attorney General Kelly Ayotte has set up a campaign committee, has hired staff and has set up a campaign office, although she says he is still merely considering a run.
Manchester attorney and 1996 GOP gubernatorial nominee Ovide Lamontagne is also considering running and has filed the necessary papers to explore a candidacy.
Two-term U.S. Rep. Paul Hodes is the only Democrat in the race. He has been actively campaigning and raising money while also working in the U.S. House.
Ayotte has hired a Washington-based consultant and fund-raiser to help her campaign. She has also received informal backing from the National Republican Senatorial Committee and its chairman, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Tex.
Lamontagne has also hired a Washington consultant to, as he explained in July, “help me in the process of testing the waters.” Both Ayotte and Lamontagne also have New Hampshire-based advisers and supporters.
Mahoney said if he runs, his campaign will be “a grassroots, neighbor-to-neighbor, town-by-town campaign run here in New Hampshire and directly between myself and the voters.”
He said that as a member of the RNC, he has “fought for the New Hampshire first-in-the-nation primary’s position based on our tradition of face-to-face and retail, grassroots campaigning. Having interference and influence from the elites in Washington just isn’t in the best interest of our party and our state.”
He said he has not yet filed a campaign committee or exploratory committee with the Federal Election Commission.
Mahoney said Hodes “is very vulnerable. I believe I can beat him and keep that seat in Republican hands.”
He said business leaders and conservative activists have told him they are “fed up with out-of-control government spending, and congressman Hodes has been in lockstep with the liberals in Congress and the Obama administration in trying to force government-run health care on us and running up massive debt. It is the wrong direction for our country.
“We need to return to core Republican principles of limited government, lower government spending, personal freedom and supporting small businesses,” Mahoney said.
Mahoney said his wife delivered a baby boy in June, “and so only in the past couple of months have I had the opportunity to think more seriously about it. I will be talking with close supporters and reaching the decision with my family. Family considerations are first and foremost in my mind.”
He said he has been “humbled by the encouragement I’ve received from state business leaders and conservative grassroots activists to really consider running, and I have told them I will seriously consider it.”
For more details on Mahoney and how the U.S. Senate race is shaping up, see the New Hampshire Union Leader and UnionLeader.com today.