Thoughts on a primary six months away

Late February is approximately six months before the state primary — the “other” New Hampshire primary.First, this year is a presidential election year. Just a couple of months ago, it looked as if President Obama was vulnerable to almost any Republican nominee. What a difference a couple of months make!Without the emergence of a clear alternative Republican candidate thus far, President Obama benefits. In addition, a number of favorable signs in the economy bolster his position, and recent polls show him defeating the Republican candidate in New Hampshire. That would have a huge effect on the election for other offices, especially if there is a large turnout with significant Obama coattails. That has yet to be seen.In the governor’s race, with John Lynch retiring after four terms, the Democratic field appears to be Maggie Hassan and Jackie Cilley, both former state senators. Neither of these candidates will be independently self-funded and neither is terribly well known statewide.On the Republican side, Ovide Lamontagne has attracted significant support of party “regular” conservatives and has announced lists of supporters and a finance committee containing the names of many notable Republicans. Lamontagne has worked hard in prior campaigns, having lost narrowly to Kelly Ayotte in the last Republican senatorial election and having run for governor in the 1990s.Kevin Smith, his opponent, a former state representative and former head of Cornerstone Action, is more conservative than Lamontagne, which may benefit Lamontagne at least by comparison, with Republican moderate voters.The unknown in this race is Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas who has yet to announce (at least at this writing) and would be getting a late start if he does announce. Gatsas has personal wealth but is not as well known statewide as he probably thinks he is, suffering from the traditional mayor problem of having difficulty winning statewide office.Lamontagne appears to be the frontrunner at this junction in that race, but like the Democratic race, but with a primary challenge, the party will be unable to unify behind a candidate until the primary is over.Right now, look for the Republicans to regain the governorship.In the congressional races, a possible rematch between former Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter and Congressman Frank Guinta is likely in the 1st Congressional District, although Shea-Porter has opposition. This is a race that does not inspire too many people, and many hope for a third alternative, although that is unlikely. Depending on Obama’s coattails, or lack of same, it could be a toss-up.In the 2nd District, again, it looks like a rematch between Congressman Charles Bass and Ann McLane Kuster. This race between two quality candidates is unique, given the backgrounds of the two candidates, whose families were close throughout the 1900s in New Hampshire moderate Republican politics, although the McLanes became Democrats at the end of the century. Recent polls favor Bass, but again the Obama factor could be determinative.In the Legislature, several state senators have announced their retirement, mostly Republicans. Coupled with that is the fact that the senate districts have been redrawn so one senator, Andy Sanborn, who has not announced his retirement, is moving to Bedford to get in a district where he may have a better chance of election.No one thinks the Republican majority will remain as lopsided as it currently is, but whether the Democrats can retake control is unknown. With Republicans in control of redistricting, if the plan passed by the Legislature sticks, they should have an advantage. However, the redistricting plans of the House, Senate and Executive Council could be vetoed by Governor Lynch, and if the Legislature fails to override the veto or come up with an alternative, the New Hampshire Supreme Court might again have to draw the districts.In the House, the 3-1 advantage the GOP currently has undoubtedly will shrink, and the recent phenomenon of large swings from one party to the other could restore a Democratic majority, although it is more likely that the Republicans will hold the edge, but narrowly (or at least more narrowly).If that happens, the present very conservative leadership of the House could be replaced by more of a consensus leadership, or at least more moderate Republicans. Obviously, should the House go Democratic, there would be entirely new leadership from that at present.So what does all of this mean? Not much in February. However, readers should contemplate how important each vote is. In addition, they should analyze who their incumbents representatives are, especially in the state Senate and House, examine the records those people have had during the last two years, and see whether those representatives merit re-election, notwithstanding the swings to the right or left that often occur.Otherwise, voters will get a result they do not want and could have avoided.Note: This column was written just before I left on vacation on Feb. 23.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.