Rich Ashooh will challenge Rep. Frank Guinta for 1st District seat | New Hampshire
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Rich Ashooh will challenge Rep. Frank Guinta for 1st District seat

New Hampshire Union Leader

April 03. 2016 9:27AM

Republican Rich Ashooh speaks with the New Hampshire Union Leader on Tuesday. He's expected to announce his campaign to run for Congress in District 1. (David Lane/Union Leader)

MANCHESTER - Sometimes, Rich Ashooh said, "You just need to jump into the fray."

Ashooh, a Republican who will officially launch his congressional campaign on Monday, was speaking about motivating factors for his 1st District run.

"What it is in many ways is a reaction, a reaction to problems that I believe are unprecedented in their criticality," he said.

National security, border security, the economy, health care reform, and the debt and deficit are on his mind during an interview with the Union Leader and N.H. Sunday News about some of the priorities in 2016.

He's focused on the debt for a quarter of a century, back to when he was the first state director of the Concord Coalition, which was co-founded by an early mentor, the late U.S. Sen. Warren B. Rudman.

"I think Congress has attempted to do some meaningful things on the budget but we're still in a culture that tolerates debt and deficit in ways that are simply unacceptable for the next generation," Ashooh said.

Ashooh will become the third Republican in the race. U.S. Rep. Frank Guinta, R-NH, is running for re-election, and state Rep. Pam Tucker of Greenland launched her campaign in mid-February. Democrats in the race are former Rep. Carol Shea-Porter of Rochester and Bedford businessman Shawn O'Connor.

Ashooh, a former director of strategy and planning for BAE Systems, is making his second run for Congress. He ran in 2010, and lost in the GOP primary to Guinta, a former Manchester mayor.

Guinta's run for re-election comes a year after the Federal Election Commission's unanimous finding that he broke federal finance laws by accepting more than $350,000 in illegal donations from his parents. He was fined $15,000, which he has paid, and ordered to refund the loan to his parents' account, which he has done. He called it a mistake and apologized to constituents, while insisting he had done nothing wrong because he argues he had an equitable interest in his parents' account. The FEC rejected that claim, and some of New Hampshire's top elected Republican leaders called on Guinta to resign.

Guinta maintained he signed the settlement agreement with the FEC to put the controversy behind him and move on to represent the people of the 1st District.

The illegal donations from his parents actually first came up in 2010, and Ashooh is well aware of the case.

Ashooh, when asked about the controversy as it relates to him challenging Guinta for the GOP nomination, declined to bushwhack into the scandal, other than acknowledging that newspapers' editorial pages concluded the congressman had "lost the trust of the voters."

"That's something he needs to explain," Ashooh said. "I'm not interest in talking about it at all."

It is not unprecedented for a major incumbent official to face a primary challenge, said Wayne MacDonald, a former state GOP chairman.

U.S. Rep. John E. Sununu challenged the U.S. Sen. Bob Smith in 2002, winning a heated primary contest before defeating former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (Shaheen ran again and won in 2008, and was re-elected in 2014.)

The FEC case, however, presents unprecedented circumstances for an incumbent in this state, he said.

MacDonald, who is not supporting a candidate in the 1st District race at this point, said it is unclear how voters will view the controversy and settlement. He said he hopes voters look at Guinta's whole record.

"Frank's worked hard to represent the 1st District," he said. "I guess we'll have to see how it plays out."

Wayne Lesperance, political science professor at New England College in Henniker, said absent much polling on where 1st District GOP voters stand, the race dynamics appear fluid.

"I do think it will be a tight race, particularly with Ashooh in the race," he says. "To the extent there is an anti-Guinta sentiment among voters, having a strong field in the primary may split that vote and help the congressman."

Lesperance does not anticipate other candidates jumping into the GOP field, though there is still time.

The state primary is Sept. 13. The state's candidate filing period runs June 1 to June 10.

Ashooh, about the rematch, said, "New Hampshire loves primaries. And I happen to believe that the reason why we have elections is that incumbency doesn't really matter. This is a time for everybody to look fresh at what their options are. Do I believe I'm a better option for the problems facing us? Absolutely, that's why I'm running."

He said he worries about "the back-sliding of U.S. leadership" in the world, as well as the growth of federal government bureaucracy.

He remains a critic of the Affordable Care Act.

"Opponents of Obamacare, and I am one of them, need to be thinking about health care reform," he said. "I don't just mean health insurance reform, which is what Obamacare is, I mean health care reform needs to change. The reason why Obamacare took root, and the reason why so many people, even those who didn't support Obamacare, are paying attention to this issue, is that the cost of health care is outrageous. So you need to not only deal with how people can get responsible coverage, but you need to be able to deal with the root cause, which is skyrocketing health care costs."

Ashooh, a Manchester native, lives in Bedford. He and his wife Lori have five children, three of whom are in college. He just recently completed a six-month appointment as interim executive director of the Warren B. Rudman Center for Justice, Leadership and Public Service at the University of New Hampshire School of Law.

In 2010, Ashooh said the nation saw a certain answer among voters. He says he was also angry, which motivated him to run for political office.

"What's different now is the anger," he said. "There are two particular candidates who seem to be vessels for the anger. So, whereas before it wasn't tied to any individual, now what I'm seeing is people seeking out certain messengers for that anger. I would say a solid eight years of frustration is coming home to roost."


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