Cook On Concord: The primary candidates are at the gate

In a couple of random conversations I have had in the last two weeks, interesting political points have been made by others.

In the first, a prominent state senator who will remain nameless disputed my assertion that it appeared Democrat Barack Obama had the upper hand in the upcoming election. Said he, “Naw, he’s a rock star. People want a president and will figure it out by November.”

I took from this that he thought the star quality of Senator Obama would wear off as pure politics and analysis of issues took over. On the other hand, I thought of two possible candidates who could have been accused of the same thing — John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan — both of whom who were elected.

In the second comment, an acquaintance complained, “How come the Republicans have written off the governorship again? Why do leaders tell us that we cannot contest the election this year? Why don’t we come up with a candidate who can raise the money and contest the election?”

This demonstrated a hunger to have a real election contest for governor, along with a fatalism that if the leadership of the party really doesn’t think Governor Lynch can be beaten, how can the rank and file? If his attitude is correct, state GOP candidates could be in trouble.

However, anyone who knows GOP Chairman Fergus Cullen and his energy will not get that impression at Republican headquarters.


You can learn a lot about what is going on by going to the Secretary of State’s Web site and review those who have filed as candidates in the September primary. I printed out the names of the candidates. It took 19 pages for Democratic candidates, and 18 for Republican. That alone should tell you something about the respective parties this year.

It might surprise the average New Hampshire resident to learn that Democratic incumbent John Lynch has a challenger, while Republican Joseph Kenney is unopposed. Kathryn Forry of Jaffrey is running against Lynch, on the assertion that Lynch is nice, but is not facing the need for new revenue sources and tax reform. She probably should not mortgage her house to finance a campaign based on that platform against the incumbent.

For U.S. Senate, it also might surprise readers that there is a primary contest in both parties. Sen. John E. Sununu is opposed by Tom Alciere of Hudson, while former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen is opposed by Raymond Stebbins of Nashua.

In congressional races, in addition to former Rep. Jeb Bradley and former Health and Human Services Commissioner John Stephen, Dave Jarvis of Hooksett and Geoff Michael of Merrimack have filed in the Republican primary in the 1st C.D., and Grant Bosse, Bob Clegg, Jennifer Horn, Alfred L’Eplattenier and Jim Steiner have filed for the chance to take on the 2nd C.D. incumbent. Incumbent Democrats Carol Shea-Porter (1st District) and Paul Hodes (2nd District) are unopposed, giving them a free ride until the general election in November.

Democratic strategy of not beating themselves up in primaries can also be seen in the races for Executive Council, where there is only one Democratic candidate in each of the five districts. The Republicans have one contest, in District 2, where Bernie Sparks of Loudon and Dan St. Hilaire of Concord are vying for the chance to take on John Shea.

The State Senate could be the most striking example of party discipline imposed by Democratic Chairman Raymond Buckley. In the 24 districts, there are 25 candidates. Only in District 21, being vacated by Sen. Iris Estabrook are there two candidates — Peter Macdonald of Lee and Amanda Merrill of Durham. Democrats have their sights on increasing their present majority, and have made some fairly confident predictions of gains.

A quick read of the filings for the House show that there are a number of districts and seats not being contested by the Republicans, and a number not being contested by the Democrats. Notably, a number of the “place-filler” Democratic candidates elected in places like Manchester, who were placed on the ballot, won, but were virtual no-shows in Concord, and are not running again, with the approval of their own party leaders. On balance, it looks like the Democrats have done a slightly better job recruiting candidates, but neither party has a lock on the House.

Finally, in one notable filing, prominent attorney David L. Nixon, a Manchester Democrat, former Republican state Senate president and candidate for governor in the 1974 GOP primary against Meldrim Thomson, is one of 11 candidates for the House in the Democratic primary in Hillsborough District 17. Should Nixon be nominated and elected, it will be a notable return to elective politics by one of the significant contributors to the state in and out of elective office. How he will find the culture and process after so many years away, will be an interesting study. nhbr

Brad Cook is a partner 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.