Every Senate seat, including N.H.'s, counts
Recent debate in the U.S. Senate over allowing the introduction and debate of Sen. Harry Reid’s health-care reform package — regardless of the merits of that massive legislation — pointed out the importance of each of the 100 seats in the Senate. Not only does each senator have to pull his or her own weight, but the talent, experience and political ability of each one is important.All of this points to the importance of the 2010 election in New Hampshire. Sen. Judd Gregg, three-term incumbent senator, has announced his intent to retire from the Senate. While this will be a loss in terms of seniority and ability, it focuses attention on an open seat that both political parties covet.The Democratic field is just one candidate, 2nd District Congressman Paul Hodes, who is busy raising money and setting himself up as the inevitable Democratic candidate best suited to capture the seat. In a typical display of discipline, avoiding a primary is seen to be advantageous as Hodes can get his message across without distraction from now through November 2010.Conversely, voters may get tired of him between now and the election, Hodes having declared so early.Nevertheless, Hodes promises to be formidable, well-financed and focused and has the advantage of having two terms in the House behind him with half of the voters of the state used to seeing his name on the ballot.The Republican situation is not as clear. Four Republicans are vying for the nomination and, unless something unusual happens, that appears to be the largest field probable.The initial front-runner appears to be former New Hampshire Attorney General Kelly Ayotte. Bright, serious and conservative on most, if not all, issues, Ayotte has support from the Washington establishment and fund-raisers, having appeared at various places across the country to raise money. She has raised money successfully and is making regular appearances at which her initial lack of political campaigning appears to be getting rectified and she is honing the message.Next, Manchester attorney Ovide Lamontagne has announced his candidacy. Once his party’s candidate for governor and a veteran of a congressional primary, Lamontagne has run for office before and knows how to campaign tirelessly. Immediately after his announcement, former GOP state chair, Fergus Cullen, writing in the Union Leader, speculated about whether Lamontagne is “too good to be elected to the Senate” — a reference to Lamontagne’s integrity, good humor and hard work for many good causes. No candidate will be more conservative than Lamontagne on social issues, although he asserted that his campaign is about the economy and Republican values related to it and governmental, not social issues.Rye businessman William Binnie has announced that he will run and, if rumors and reports are accurate, has indicated he will spend as much money as it takes to fund his campaign and get his message across. Owner of the Wentworth by the Sea Golf Course, among other business holdings, Binnie reportedly has said he will spend up to $10 million or more on his election. Binnie is unknown in politics and his positions also are unknown. When he announced, he got himself into some hot water by indicating support for gay marriage and abortion and seemingly tripped when trying to explain his positions on those.Finally, Jim Bender, another business owner who has lived in Hollis for 23 years while building several businesses and selling some (IDEA, Logicraft and Aware), has announced that he is running. After his expression of interest, the Internet was crowded with messages from those who know Bender, commending him as a good person and competent businessman. Assumedly, Bender would have sufficient funds of his own to fund a campaign and his message would be similar to Binnie’s. Namely, he is a businessman and not a Washington politician, he has experience in business that would help fix governmental problems, Washington needs a fresh face and new approaches and he is the one to go do it.Time will tell which of the candidates organizes best, and uses money most effectively (and an overabundance of funding has a tendency to result in dumb spending decisions).Two cautions in this process:• Too much self-funding should not be allowed to “buy” a senate seat that belongs to the people.• All this talk about “non-politicians” being better candidates for office because they are not experienced in government misses a basic point. That is, knowing how government works and how to get things done in the governmental process is essential if an office-holder is to be effective.Brad Cook is a shareholder in the Manchester law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green and heads its government relations and estate planning groups. He also serves as secretary of the Business and Industry Association of New Hampshire.