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September 09. 2012 12:50AM

Garry Rayno's State House Dome: A smorgasbord for NH voters


 
PRIMARY TIME: This gubernatorial primary for an open seat is quieter than any in recent memory, though both parties have competitive contests.

The two Republicans, Manchester attorney Ovide Lamontagne and Litchfield consultant Kevin Smith, finally began engaging the last two weeks, but the three Democrats, former Sens. Jackie Cilley and Maggie Hassan and retired Air Force security officer Bill Kennedy, have yet to really mix it up.

The television stations and cable outlets have not seen their revenues jump with the amount of advertising the gubernatorial candidates have done.

Further down the ticket, the two Republican Congressional seats have primary contests, and there are four contested races for the 10 slots for Executive Council. The Democrats have one contested state Senate seat out of 24, and the Republicans have eight.

That's not a lot of contests to bring out the primary voters, but Secretary of State Bill Gardner predicts the turnout will be about average on Tuesday.

Gardner thinks about 102,000 Republicans will turn out to vote for their favorite candidates, while about 66,000 Democrats will go to the polls.

“This primary will have an average turnout reflecting the number of contests on the ballot,” Gardner said. “2010 was higher with a U.S. Senate race and a Republican governor's primary.”

If Gardner's predictions are correct, the turnout will be about 21.4 percent, just a little lower than the 2010 primary, at 21.8 percent.

In the 2010 primary, more voters turned out — about 202,070 to Gardner's predicted 168,000 — but more people were on the checklists.

As required every 10 years, this year, a purge was done, eliminating about 150,000 names.

After the 2010 general election, the state had 945,341 registered voters; last week, the count was down to 784,482 after the purge.

The high-water mark for Republican turnout was 2002, when there was a hotly contested gubernatorial race among Craig Benson, Bruce Keough and Gordon Humphrey, which Benson won by about 4,000 votes.

The race was the most expensive primary in state history until last year's Republican U.S. Senate race.

In 2002, 155,952 Republicans voted in the primary, while in 2010,

141,172 voted to pick the GOP slate.

In the last two decades, the lowest total for Republican primary voters was in 2006, when only 51,024 turned out.

The Democrats' high-water mark was in 1992, when Arnie Arnesen, Ned Helms and Norm D'Amours squared off in a hotly contested gubernatorial race, which Arnesen won. In that race, 91,168 Democrats cast ballots.

The lowest turnout for Democrats was the 1998 contest, when then-Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, who was very popular, sought reelection and there was no U.S. Senate race.

Gardner noted that more people filed to run for office in 2012 than ever before, 1,501, which includes the candidates filed by the two political parties for open seats, but does not include the candidates who will appear on the November general election ballot who filed nomination papers to run as independents or Libertarians or some other group.

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CONTESTS: What the turnout means for the gubernatorial races remains to be seen, but a low turnout would certainly help Cilley while a higher turnout would benefit Hassan.

On the Republican side, the effect of the turnout is less clear, but still a low turnout would help the underdog, Smith. A large turnout would signal a strong showing by Lamontagne.

Turnout in the primary has little to do with what happens in the general election, when about 250,000 more New Hampshire voters go to the polls than do in the primaries.

In the last 20 years, Democrats have never had more primary voters than Republicans, even in 2010 and 2011, when they outnumbered Republicans in the tally of registered voters.

However, since 1992, the majority of New Hampshire voters went for the Democratic presidential nominee four out of five times, and Democrats have prevailed for governor in seven of the last eight elections.

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READY FOR TUESDAY: Gardner says he does not expect the state's new photo identification law to creat any problems during Tuesday's primary. The law requires voters to show photo identification or fill out a challenged-voter affidavit to vote.

During Tuesday's primary, voters will be asked for a photo ID, but they can still vote even if they don't produce one.

Voters will, however, need a photo ID in the November general election or they will have to fill out the affidavit.

Gardner said his office held 10 regional meetings attended by about 2,000 election officials, and Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan has held an additional six or so meetings.

He said most of the discussion at those meetings was about the new photo identification law. “They were good discussions,” Gardner said. “They are ready.”

More than 6,000 people across the state will be working at the polls Tuesday, he noted.

During the legislative debate on the photo identification law, he said, one side contended about 11 percent of voters would not have photo identification and the other side contended it would be less than 1 percent.

“That's the range,” Gardner said. “We'll find out in November; that will be the better test.”

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SOME REPUBLICANS TARGETED: The Republican Liberty Caucus of New Hampshire is targeting six Republican incumbent House members for defeat in the primary election.

“Part of our mission as an organization is to encourage the election of Republican candidates who will cherish the great traditions of liberty that our founders gave us so that our state and its citizens can continue to prosper and seek the good life,” said Carolyn McKinney, chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus of New Hampshire.

“Inherent in that mission is this effort to prevent people from winning as Republicans when their intention is to actively work against the ideals of liberty that the party represents.”

The group's targets are Reps. Julie Brown, R-Rochester; Peter Bolster, R-Alton; Tim Copeland, R-Stratham; Susan Emerson, R-Rindge; Priscilla Lockwood, R-Canterbury; and Bill Remick-Lancaster.

The Liberty Caucus' Political Action Committee (PAC) created a website listing the six Republicans' key votes and says it has launched an aggressive online and grassroots campaign “that exposes their reckless disregard for the traditional GOP principles of limited government, individual liberty, personal responsibility and free enterprise.”

Rep. Lee Quandt, R-Exeter, who is exploring a run for House speaker to unseat Speaker William O'Brien, called the group “domestic terrorists” who want to beat all the Republicans they don't agree with.

“Republican groups calling themselves Republican this or Republican that are going to bring down the Republican Party,” Quandt said. “People are walking away from it.”

While the Liberty Caucus is targeting the group, the Citizens for a Better New Hampshire, another PAC, will spend $33,000 helping the six targeted Republicans along with 17 other Republicans with direct mail pieces.

The 23 Republican House members supported by the group all voted against the right-to-work legislation pushed by O'Brien and others.

Not surprisingly, the Better New Hampshire PAC has the same address as the Granite State Progress and America Votes organizations, and its chairman, Jo-Ann Keller, works with the State Employers Association.

The state director of the NH America Votes, Josiette White, was reimbursed for filing the PAC with the Secretary of State's Office.

According to contribution and expenditure reports, The National Education Association-NH PAC contributed $8,000 to the group.

If this kind of attention is being paid to the primary, the general election is bound to be much more intense.

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Garry Rayno may be reached at grayno@unionleader.com.

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