Lynch announcement sets up interesting scenarios

When Gov. John Lynch announced a couple of weeks ago that his record fourth term as governor would be his last, he set in motion a whole host of political speculation, posturing, at least one formal announcement of candidacy, and he gave state pundits something to do.Republicans were delighted, at least outwardly, that Lynch was retiring at the end of eight years, since he was the assumed front-runner for a fifth term. A remarkably agile politician who obviously enjoyed the job, Lynch kept his powder dry, let others stick their necks out, spoke to every 4th-grader who visited the State House, and seemingly was wherever anything was going on. His optimistic, centrist demeanor set a tone that offended few, and the accolades from both sides of the aisle after his announcement seemed sincere and well-deserved.History will have to judge what Lynch’s accomplishments were, besides ousting Craig Benson, but governing for eight years with a steady hand and a relative lack of controversy is not a bad start for a legacy.Fast out of the gate, Ovide Lamontagne, Manchester Republican and former U.S. Senate and gubernatorial candidate, announced his entry into the race.All who know Lamontagne, regardless of whether they support him or not, are sure of his sincerity, conviction, integrity and honesty, and what you see is what you get: a conservative socially, economically and politically; a candidate who takes positions because of belief, not convenience.Also discussed were Sen. Jeb Bradley and Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas, but both disclaimed interest in the job. Conservative activist Kevin Smith of the Cornerstone Action conservative group expressed interest, and tea party activists claimed to be looking for other possible candidates.On the Democratic side, former state Sen. Maggie Hassan, a well-regarded attorney, began her exploration in earnest. Former Portsmouth Mayor Steve Marchand and former Securities Bureau head Mark Connolly expressed interest in the job, and others obviously were thinking about running.It is very early in the speculation, and other candidates undoubtedly will hear the call from on high before the filing period is over next summer.*****What is different about the 2012 gubernatorial race?First, there is no incumbent running. If it is true that running from outside government is easier than running from within (which is curious), then all the candidates will be able to run on that basis. Democrats will be able to run against the Republican Legislature, which should be an easy target, and Republicans against the Lynch record as executive, which, while popular, should offer opportunities for those who disagreed with parts of it, such as signing the same-sex marriage bill, supporting union initiatives and other things that Republicans typically oppose.Second, none of the candidates currently running or rumored to be running is a wealthy, self-funded candidate. It means that campaigns probably will not cost as much, that candidates will have to rely on their fellow citizens not just for votes but for funding, and that old-fashioned door-to-door campaigning, or perhaps its more recent incarnation — use of social media — will replace the literally tons of mail and robo-calls until we are sick of them. Could this mean that issues and personal contact might come back in politics? That might be too much to hope for, but at least the lack of excess funds may make it more rational.Third, 2012 is a presidential election year. That means that the top of the ticket in both parties will be important. Of course, the identity of the Republican nominee is not now known, and when it is, that will have an important effect on the race. What is sure is that the campaigns of candidates for president will contribute to those of candidates for state office, seeking to gain the support of the activists and voters, which will provide a lot of funding. This probably will help Republicans this year, since the primary action is in that party.Fourth, there is no U.S. Senate election in 2012, so the popularity of an incumbent U.S. senator will not affect the fate of candidates of her party next year.Finally, if the recent trend of swings from the extreme majorities of one party to the other continues, Democrats will pick up seats in the Legislature. Whether this has a “reverse coattails” effect, attracting voters to the candidates of that party at a higher position on the ballot, will be interesting to see. On the other hand, if the Republican trend continues as a reaction to the weak economy or national administration, more seats could go to the GOP, and it could solidify its hold on state government, perhaps including the governorship.Brad Cook, a shareholder in the Manchester law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green, heads its government relations and estate planning groups. He also serves as secretary of the Business and Industry Association of New Hampshire.