2010 races starting to take shape

Recent events concerning the governors of South Carolina and Alaska — the former who should resign and the latter who did so inexplicably — notwithstanding, New Hampshire has its own set of interesting events. Thank goodness they are tamer.

What is the same about the situation, however, is that there is a whole crop of people interested in running for office in the next election cycle, still over a year away. Suddenly, the UNH Survey Center’s poll regarding the popularity of Gov. John Lynch, who is assumed to want to seek a record fourth two-year term, shows that the governor’s popularity has declined significantly after the legislative session that saw him appear to change positions on gay marriage and contained a messy budget process.

Everything is relative, however, with the governor’s approval rating still over 60 percent. Nevertheless, there is talk in the Republican Party of coming up with a serious and effective candidate, raising money, and giving Lynch the first real opposition he has had since the election in which he toppled Craig Benson from office.

The rub, however, is who the candidate or candidates might be. More than one observer has noted that the most eloquent criticisms of Lynch and explanations of the part’s message come from the current GOP party chair, John H. Sununu. If he could be persuaded to run, the theory goes, the former governor could give the current one a real race, and he could attract financial support both from inside and outside the state. Other potential candidates are mentioned as well, including Bruce Keough, Charles Bass, Bob Odell and others.

Former Sen. John E. Sununu’s announcement that he would not seek the seat being vacated by Judd Gregg took away a natural check on the potential candidacies of a number of Republicans who would like to run for the job.

The most interesting political event occurred when Attorney General Kelly A. Ayotte abruptly announced that she would resign her office to investigate running for the Senate. This followed press speculation about her running and firm predictions by many (including the governor and me, for separate reasons) that she would not do so.

Her announcement produced some inappropriate and intemperate comparisons to Governor Palin’s announcement in Alaska, especially from the head of the New Hampshire Democratic Party.

Ayotte is a talented, serious and experienced public servant. Prosecuting murder cases and administering the largest group of government attorneys in the state, with the attendant responsibility for setting policy, giving advice, and providing oversight of governmental operations, is more experience than most candidates for public office have, so any comments about her not having served in elective office should be discounted substantially.

Whether her experience makes her a good candidate on the stump, however, will be tested if she actually runs.

Other candidates said to be interested include the aforementioned Bass, Nashua businessman Fred Tausch (who is spending a lot of money on TV and print ads, as if that proves some kind of qualification for office), and former GOP candidate for governor Ovide Lamontagne, a Manchester attorney.

Bass has the advantage of having been in Congress and is known as a moderate. Lamontagne is a serious, thoughtful person of integrity, connected to the conservative wing of the GOP. Tausch is an unknown suspected of being in the tradition of those wealthy folks trying to buy an office, but time will tell how serious a candidate he may be.

On the Democratic side, 2nd District Congressman Paul Hodes is the presumptive nominee, and there are predictions that he will have no primary opponent. He is not known in the 1st District, so doesn’t have the advantage of incumbency statewide. He does have the ability to raise money and already has a million dollars or so in the bank.

This is somewhat reminiscent of the 1980 Senate election, which saw incumbent Democrat John Durkin get his party’s nomination, while a host of Republicans competed in the Republican primary.

However, 2010 is not 1980. The demographics have shifted, New Hampshire is not a Republican state, Ronald Reagan is not running against Jimmy Carter, and the Democrats are not in disarray.

A successful Republican campaign will require a message that resonates with a variety of voter groups, a lot of money and the right messenger.

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.