CONCORD — As incumbent Republicans fight primary challenges from Tea Party factions across the country, a version of the same drama is playing out in New Hampshire, largely in state Senate races, with the Republican Liberty Caucus of N.H. playing the role of Tea Party in the Granite State.
Republicans are almost certain to retain their majority in the state Senate, but it could be a different state Senate if conservative groups succeed in primary challenges to incumbents viewed as too willing to compromise with Democrats.
Three Republican senators considered too liberal by groups like the Liberty Caucus and Citizens for a Strong New Hampshire have already stepped down, and five more are in the Liberty Caucus cross-hairs — Jeanie Forrester of Meredith; Jeb Bradley of Wolfeboro; David Boutin of Hooksett; Nancy Stiles of Hampton; and Senate President Chuck Morse of Salem.
Citizens for a Strong New Hampshire is a non-profit issues advocacy group, and does not endorse candidates, but is running radio and TV ads targeting Bradley, Boutin and Stiles as “Wolves in sheep’s clothing,” claiming, “They have consistently tried to pull the wool over their constituents’ eyes. They pretend to be conservative, but they have voted like liberal Democrats on important issues such as Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion.”
In addition to votes in favor of expanding Medicaid through private insurers, some conservatives feel betrayed by Republican support for a 4.2 cent increase in the gasoline tax and are bent on pay-back.
Stiles already has a primary challenger — entrepreneur Steve Kenda of North Hampton. Had they not announced plans to step down, Sens. Jim Rausch of Derry, Bob Odell of Lempster and Peter Bragdon of Milford could have also faced challenges from the right.
Aaron Day, chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus of New Hampshire, said the group has already endorsed J.P. Marzullo, a former Deering selectman and incumbent vice chairman of the N.H. Republican Committee, to fill the vacancy left by Odell.
Marzullo faces opposition for the Republican nomination in District 8 from Jerry Little of Weare, a former president of the New Hampshire Bankers Association and a former press secretary to Gov. John H. Sununu.
Attacks could backfire
Veteran political strategist Periklis Karoutas of Dover was manager of Jeb Bradley’s campaign for Congress in 2006 and 2008, and is helping him in his state Senate reelection campaign this year. He also helped Boutin get elected, and this cycle is working on Jerry Little’s state Senate primary against Marzullo.
He suggested attack ads by third-party groups like Citizens for a Strong New Hampshire could backfire. “Overall, people in New Hampshire and a lot of other places are kind of fed up with a lot of these organizations that don’t disclose where their money comes from, muddying the waters rather than having real conversations with voters,” he said.
U.S. Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell told CNN he expects big wins for incumbent Republicans facing primary challenges from the right. Periklis was less resolute about outcomes in New Hampshire, but said Republican incumbents who helped usher through Medicaid expansion and the gas tax increase are not running from their record.
“They are going to run on their record,” he said. “They cast their votes depending on what they felt was best for their state and their district, and that’s what they are going to campaign on. These other organization ... it’s unclear what their agendas are ... but these candidates are proud of their records and are going to run on them.”
Aaron Day says the agenda of the Liberty Caucus is clear — to endorse and campaign for 20 seats in the 24-seat chamber, currently split 13-11 in favor of the GOP.
So far the group has formally endorsed Marzullo and incumbent Republican Sen. Andy Sanborn of Bedford. Day said 18 more candidates would be endorsed in the weeks ahead.
“We’ve got 20 really solid candidates,” he said. “We think this is going to be a great year for us in the Senate. We have put a lot of time and effort in on this one, and I really think it’s going to pay off big time.”
Candidates have until June 13 to file with the Secretary of State, and more retirements may be forthcoming. It’s not uncommon for incumbents to wait until the last minute to make their intentions known.
If there are any more departures, they won’t be among Democrats, according to state party chair Ray Buckley. When asked if he expected any retirements among the 11 Democratic incumbents, or any primary challenges to them, he replied, “No and no.”
Republican candidates are coming out of the woodwork for open seats and to challenge incumbents. While Marzullo and Little square off for the nomination in Odell’s district, a three-way race is taking shape among GOP candidates in Rausch’s district, with Jim Foley, chairman of the Derry Town Republican Committee; State Rep. Regina Birdsell of Hampstead, Rockingham County GOP chair; and Republican State Rep. Frank Sapareto of Derry in the running.
As many as four Republicans could run in Bragdon’s Milford-area district, where State Rep. Gary Daniels and business owner Dan Dwyer, who ran against Bragdon last year, have already announced.
Meanwhile, only two non-incumbent Democrats have declared for state Senate so far. State Rep. Chris Muns of Hampton will face the winner of the Stiles v. Kenda Republican primary in District 24. Kenda is likely to be the next in line for a Liberty Caucus endorsement.
Lee C. Nyquist, an attorney with the law firm of Shaheen and Gordon, announced on Wednesday that he will seek the Democratic nomination to run again against Republican Andy Sanborn in District 9, setting up a rematch of the closest state Senate race in recent memory.
Julie McClain, communications director for the New Hampshire Democratic Party, said the party has strong candidates for the three open Senate seats and to challenge GOP incumbents. With less than a month to the filing deadline, those announcements should be forthcoming.