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John DiStaso's Granite Status: Obama to go from Charlotte to NH; GOP's Smith gets tough

Senior Political Reporter

August 30. 2012 12:04AM

THURSDAY, AUG. 30: BARACK COMING BACK. President Barack Obama will return to New Hampshire for a campaign visit Friday, Sept. 7, the day after he will speak to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.

No further details on the trip were available Wednesday and probably won't be known for a few days.

It's unclear if New Hampshire will be Obama's very first post-Charlotte stop, but the campaign's decision to have him come here the day after he accepts his party's nomination and delivers his acceptance speech is more evidence of the hotly contested nature of the general election in New Hampshire.

It shows the importance the Obama campaign is placing on the state, despite the fact that it has only four electoral votes.

Obama last campaigned in the state less than two weeks ago, visiting Windham and Rochester Aug. 18. He previously campaigned in Durham June 25 and made an official White House visit to Nashua back on March 1.

Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has also placed much emphasis on winning New Hampshire. He has campaigned here numerous times since winning the presidential primary in January, most recently with running mate Paul Ryan Aug. 20. Ryan then returned last Saturday, visiting a Manchester restaurant and keynoting a GOP fundraiser.

Romney has a home in Wolfeboro and has spent much private time there as well this summer.

After Romney delivers his acceptance speech tonight in Tampa, he and Ryan will head to Virginia, another important swing state.

Obama's visit will also come just four days before the Sept. 11 state primary election. It will be interesting to see whether Democratic candidates for governor and other contested races attend the President's event or focus on their own events. Most likely, they'll try to do both.

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SMITH GOES ON THE ATTACK. Trailing in fundraising and recent polling and losing the newspaper editorial endorsement race, Kevin Smith is pressing forward with criticism of fellow Republican candidate for governor Ovide Lamontagne.

In what the Lamontagne campaign calls a sign of desperation, Smith this week targeted Lamontagne's recent comment that as governor, he would fight for repeal of an 1877 constitutional amendment barring tax dollars from being used for religious schools.

Lamontagne said repeal would facilitate a voucher system providing funding for students to attend private schools. Exactly which religious schools should benefit from the publicly funded vouchers should be decided by policy-makers, Lamontagne said.

Smith said Lamontagne was avoiding substantive discussion of the issues facing the state.

'Ovide's personal opinion about funding for religious schools is not the problem,' Smith said in a statement. 'The problem is that instead of promoting more pressing and more achievable reforms that directly impact our economic future, Ovide's out there picking fights he can't win and that distract from the main issues.

'What's more puzzling is that Ovide purports to be the education guy, because he once served on the (state) Board of Education almost 20 years ago, and yet he's dedicated all of three sentences on his website to education reform.

'Does he really want to make the repeal of a 135-year old amendment his fourth sentence?'

Smith said the election 'is about the economy and jobs, not a century-old clause that bans state funding for religious schools.'

He said that in contrast to his own 'disciplined' approach to improving jobs and the economy, Lamontagne 'has not shown discipline on this and other issues, and he's not focused on the right things, which is another reason why I am better positioned to be our party's strongest nominee in November.'

A Smith advisor added that Lamontagne is trying to get through the primary race 'on name ID' and by talking about things that have 'no relation to the issues that are most important to the voters this election - the economy and jobs.'

Lamontagne spokesman Tom Cronin said, 'As Kevin knows, Ovide was responding to a direct question on school choice in New Hampshire, an issue he has been an advocate for and strongly supports. Unfortunately, we've entered the phase of the primary when desperate campaigns begin to attack and go negative, leading Mr. Smith to a new low in attacking Ovide, a proven leader who understands the critical importance of reforming our educational system to improve our economy and create a pro-growth, pro-jobs environment.'

It all should make for an interesting debate scheduled for tonight at Windham High School, sponsored by the Southern New Hampshire 9.12 Project, and next Thursday at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics, cosponsored by WMUR television and the New Hampshire Union Leader.

Smith, by the way, began advertising on WMUR this week and is back up on cable television. His ad talks about his economic plan to cut business taxes, lower costs for health care and electricity, and reverse the trend of young workers leaving the state by creating new job opportunities for them in the state.

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AYOTTE ACCOLADES. U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte is not only getting all kinds of attention from the national GOP and the national media at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, but she's also being heralded by Washingtonian magazine's poll of her fellow senators in the September edition's 'Best and Worst of Congress.'

Ayotte is named the number-one 'Surprise Standout' and the number-two 'rising star' (behind Marco Rubio R-Fla.).

And oh, by the way, she is also named the number one 'Female Hottie' in the Senate.

No doubt she (and husband Joe) just loved that one.

Neither of our House members, nor our Democratic senator, made it into the top three of any of the categories their colleagues were polled on.

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BACKING FOR ROLECEK; BURNS ON THE AIR. In the District 4 Executive Council GOP primary, we've learned that restaurateur Chuck Rolecek today will announce he is being endorsed by state Sen. Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry.

'Chuck is a great Republican and has always done whatever he could to support our party and our candidates,' she says in choosing Rolecek over her Senate colleague Tom DeBlois and Hillsborough County Treasurer Bob Burns.

Carson represents large and key towns in the district and joins Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas and former congressional candidate Rich Ashooh in backing Rolecek.

Burns, meanwhile, has gone on the air with a biting ad touting his own GOP credentials and criticizing (without specifically naming) Rolecek and DeBlois.

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'SWITCHERS.' Tuesday was 'switchers' day for the Democrats in New Hampshire.

As the Barack Obama campaign in the state unveiled the names of about 90 current Republicans and a small number of former Republicans now backing Obama, 2nd District U.S. House candidate Ann Kuster released her own list of 40.

Prominent (but by no means surprising) on the list are former GOP activist Hilary Cleveland (who is also on Obama's list) and Dr. Jim Squires, a former Nashua-Hollis Republican state senator and candidate for governor.

Also on the list is Richard Hamilton of Littleton, former president of White Mountain Attractions, state Rep. Jim Pilliod of Belmont and former Reps. Merle Schotanus of Grantham and Paul Spiess of Amherst.

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HASSAN, CILLEY GET ENDORSEMENTS. Still on the endorsement front, two of the Democratic candidates for governor picked up key backing this week.

Former U.S. Rep. Paul Hodes backed Maggie Hassan, while attorney Andru Volinsky, the lead attorney in the landmark Claremont school funding lawsuit supports Jackie Cilley.

Meanwhile, Smith picked up the endorsement this week of veteran conservative activist Karen Testerman, who preceded him as head of Cornerstone Policy Research and Cornerstone Action.

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LOOKING AHEAD. The state Democratic and Republican parties plan post-primary unity breakfasts on Thursday, Sept. 13. The Democratic event will be at the Puritan Backroom in Manchester, while the GOP event will be at the Manchester Country Club in Bedford.

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-- Outgoing state Sens. Ray White and Jim Forsythe this week backed Dennis Action of Fremont in his GOP District 23 primary bid against incumbent Sen. Russell Prescott.

-- Women Against Guinta and the CREDO SuperPAC will hold a candlelight vigil outside of Rep. Frank Guinta's congressional office tonight at 8 p.m. to protest, the groups said, 'the Republican War on Women and Guinta's repeated attacks on a woman's right to choose.'

-- Franklin Republican Bill Grimm says he has received an endorsement from 2008 GOP presidential nominee and U.S. Sen. John McCain, who called Grimm 'a rock-ribbed conservative dedicated to maintaining New Hampshire's national reputation for fiscal responsibility.' Grimm has been a McCain supporter dating back to the 2000 presidential primary.

-- R.C. Hammond, a former John E. Sununu staffer who headed communications nationally for former presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, has now set up his own public affairs firm in Washington -- R.C. Hammond Public Affairs.

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John DiStaso is senior political reporter of the New Hampshire Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News. He can be reached at Twitter: @jdistaso.

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