Cook On Concord: With few contests, little attention focused on primary races

New Hampshire’s state primary is held in September, and this year it is on Tuesday, the 12th. Almost no one seems to be focusing on that day at this point, except for candidates in contested races, of which there are very few.

The gubernatorial contests in both parties are uncontested, with Governor Lynch assured the Democratic nomination and Jim Coburn the Republican nomination unless rumors of Republican efforts to write in Lynch actually materialize. Interestingly, with poll numbers as high as they are among Republicans for Lynch, a concerted effort to have a write-in for him might produce an embarrassment, if not a loss, for Coburn.

Congressman Charles Bass in the 2nd District has opposition, whether serious or not, from the Bob Danderson, the mayor of Berlin, and the Democratic primary will produce Concord attorney Paul Hodes as his opponent. In the 1st District, several Democrats are vying for the nomination to run against Congressman Jeb Bradley, who faces no opposition. The betting is on Manchester attorney Jim Craig, but the turnout could be so low that any candidate could prevail.

In November, whether two moderate-conservative Republicans will be vulnerable because of the unpopularity of the national administration is hard to tell, it being accepted that people generally do not like the Congress but like their own congressmen.

There are a smattering of contested State House races, but most incumbent state senators are not contested. In one interesting race, Sen. Bob Letourneau is being challenged in the Republican primary by the person he defeated in the last primary, former Sen. Frank Sapareto. This has been a reasonably personal race with jabs between the two candidates who, at least publicly, appear not to like each other very much.

Sen. Richard Green, a Rochester Republican, is on the ballot, but was later selected as executive director of the Pease Development Authority. He has announced he will move out of the district to get off the ballot. Whether this will make that district race competitive for the Democrats is uncertain. Apart from that, there is not much action.

For the Executive Council, the most interesting race is the one to succeed retiring Councilor Ruth Griffin, pitting incumbent Sen. Chuck Morse, former Sen. Russell Prescott and publisher Sean Mahoney against each other in the Republican race. Former Senate President Beverly Hollingsworth, a gracious lady returning to the political scene, will be the Democratic candidate.

Interestingly, in one of the great reversals of fortune, District 1 Councilor Raymond Burton, roundly criticized last year for the problems of one of his staff members, who had been arrested for child molestation and whose resignation was demanded by people in his party and elsewhere, has no opposition in the primary, and there is no Democrat running in that primary to oppose him, although a write-in effort to nominate someone in the Democratic primary could result in his having opposition in November.

There are a number of races for the New Hampshire House. The disadvantage for those running in contested primaries is that with so little interest being generated at other levels, the turnout could result in strange results, notwithstanding the merit of the candidates or their effort invested in the races.

In Manchester, the city Democratic Party seems to have recruited some notable candidates to run for the House. Among them are former Alderman Mary Sysyn in Ward 4 and Attorney James Townsend in Ward 1. Townsend, son of former Republican Whip Sara Townsend of Meriden, is a recent recruit to the Democratic Party. His election would return a familiar New Hampshire political name to office, with various Townsends having served in many capacities throughout New Hampshire history.

Secretary of State William Gardner is paying special attention to this primary election as he does to all of them, but for a special reason this year. The state Supreme Court in August held the state law on positioning of candidates on the ballot unconstitutional.

Traditionally, candidates are listed in alphabetical order, and the party that won the most votes in the previous election gets the first column. The court said there had to be more random placement so that everyone had an equal chance.

This decision came after the ballots were printed for the September primary, so Gardner went back to court to try to seek a stay of the order so this year’s primary would not have to be delayed. As of this writing, that issue had not been decided.


Elsewhere in the United States, in late summer politics, President Bush has announced that he will not take an active part in support of the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Connecticut, thus giving a tacit endorsement to Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the Democrat who lost his primary and is now running as an independent. August polls showed Lieberman in the lead and he appeared to be raising money. Connecticut has a history of electing independents, and it will be interesting to see how Lieberman does.

On another interesting note, some candidates in other states have refused help from Sen. Hilary Clinton of New York, who volunteered to campaign for them. What this says about Clinton’s salability to the country is intriguing.

Brad Cook is a partner in the Manchester law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green and heads its government relations and estate planning groups.

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