On endorsements and ‘straw polls’

Just when I thought I had decided for whom to vote in the United States primary, Sarah Palin endorsed Kelly Ayotte, completely screwing up my thinking. Basically, Palin has become an industry, darting around the country (or at least darting around the Internet and cyberspace) endorsing candidates. Whether this is supposed to help them or hurt them I cannot determine, although it certainly hurts them with me.

Palin, sometime governor of Alaska and one-time vice presidential candidate on the ticket with John McCain (causing at least this voter to stare at the ballot for about five minutes before figuring out for whom to vote), certainly is making a lot of money and getting a lot of press.
It’s a mystery why Palin’s opinion on whom New Hampshire voters should vote for has any meaning. However, her lack of substance certainly does not add credibility to candidates.
Other endorsements have been equally interesting, especially when they come from out-of-state people with only passing acquaintance with New Hampshire. Nevertheless, they get a lot of play, and candidates who receive them make them sound as if they are important, while those not getting them instantly belittle them.
On the other hand, there are endorsements that should be taken seriously. For example, former Sen. Warren B. Rudman, a man with personal knowledge of many of the candidates and of the issues, made a rare endorsement in the Republican 1st Congressional District primary, endorsing Rich Ashooh.
Ashooh, well-known to Rudman, served on his staff and then was director of the Concord Coalition, co-founded by Rudman and the late Democratic Sen. Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts.
Similarly, Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas, an experienced state and city officeholder, chose to endorse Sean Mahoney for the congressional nomination, bypassing former Manchester Mayor Frank Guinta.
Gatsas’ personal knowledge of Guinta, having worked with him when Guinta was mayor for four years and Gatsas a city alderman from the same party, is notable, more for what it says about Guinta than what it says about Mahoney, at least in Gatsas’ opinion.
Of course, the only poll that counts is the one in September, when each voter gets to make a personal endorsement of the candidate he or she believes should carry the party banner into the November election in the Senate case against Congressman Paul Hodes and in the congressional race against Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter, the incumbent.
In the 2nd District, conventional wisdom holds that former Congressman Charles Bass will get the Republican nomination, being better funded and certainly better known than his opponents.
In the Democratic race, Ann McLane Kuster is running a feisty race against Katrina Swett, wife of the former congressman, daughter of well-known Congressman Tom Lantos, late of California, and a former candidate herself.
In the endorsement arena, Kuster has received endorsements from out-of-state women’s and pro-choice groups. These are interesting since they play to a base she apparently wants in the primary but may position her further to the left than the electorate, should she obtain the nomination.
This aspect of endorsements also is notable since what is valuable in a primary may be used against a candidate in a general election when candidates need to move to the center.
In all of these races, however, changes in the electorate and the forces affecting 2010 specifically will be interesting to watch.
The other silly season sensation that has been getting a lot of play of late is the subject of “straw polls” — the votes taken by people attending party picnics, rallies or other events sponsored either by party organizations or special interest groups.
On one especially slow news day, the New Hampshire Sunday News touted candidate Ovide Lamontagne’s victory in one of these polls, which was taken at a very conservative group’s picnic. This newsworthy victory was followed up the following week by a story in which Lamontagne blasted others for trying to “buy” straw polls at other events by purchasing tickets for supporters to attend.
Whether buying a straw poll is a political offense or not, the amount of press given to these polls underscored a more important point that the voters should remember. That is, all of the candidates running for the Republican Senate nomination seemingly take similar positions on almost all of the issues. Therefore, what is getting a lot of attention is trivial at best.
What voters need to do is evaluate the experience, knowledge, personal ability and maturity of candidates actually to be effective officeholders and not colorful candidates.
New Hampshirites should use the time between now and the election evaluating candidates and their potential for effectiveness rather than paying much attention to the side shows that seem to get all the ink. And then they should take the time to vote!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.