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NH voters face a ballot full of choices in primaries today

Senior Political Reporter

September 10. 2012 10:39PM

With the governor's seat open for the first time in a decade, Granite Staters will go to the polls today to pick the Democratic and Republican nominees who will battle for the next eight weeks to succeed the retiring Gov. John Lynch.

Republicans Ovide Lamontagne of Manchester and Kevin Smith of Litchfield, as well as Robert Tarr of Manchester, are vying for the right to face the winner of the three-way Democratic primary among Maggie Hassan of Exeter, Jackie Cilley of Barrington and Bill Kennedy of Danbury.

John Babiarz is the Libertarian Party's nominee for governor and will also be on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.

Voters in today's primary election will also be faced with choices all the way down the ballot, from Republican primaries in both congressional districts to 60 Republican and 12 Democratic contests for state representative seats and several primaries for county offices.

Secretary of State William Gardner predicts that 168,000 Granite Staters will go to the polls, for a turnout of slightly more than 21 percent.

He says 102,000 will vote in the Republican primary and 66,000 will pick up Democratic ballots.

It will be the first election since the passage of the state's new voter ID law. According to the Secretary of State's Office, voters will be asked to provide valid photo identification at their polling places.

For today's election only, any voter who does not present an approved photo ID will simply be informed of the new law, but will be permitted to vote.

In the general election, any voter who does not present an approved photo ID will be permitted to vote after signing an official 'challenged voter' affidavit.

Approved photo IDs include a driver's license issued by any state, a state-issued ID card, an Armed Services ID car, a passport, a student ID card or another photo ID considered legitimate by the local voting officials.

See the Secretary of State's web site for specifics.

The Justice Department approved the state's voter ID law last week.

Quieter than usual

New Hampshire voters have been hearing from candidates for well over a year now.

Last year, the Republican presidential candidates dominated the political landscape leading up to the Jan. 10 primary.

And in the past few weeks, the presidential general campaign has largely overwhelmed the state primary campaign.

Overall, it has been a relatively quiet primary season. While there has been some television advertising, it has been far less than in recent elections.

'It's truly stunning and not in a good way,' longtime Republican political strategist Michael Dennehy said. 'When there is an open seat for governor, it concerns me that there is not more excitement on either side.

'I don't think that's good for democracy here in the state,' Dennehy said.

'It's been quieter than most and shorter than most primaries,' agreed Andrew Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center.

'The fact that it's an open governor's seat and we haven't seen the kind of money or media attention that we've seen in the past is the thing that has made interest in it so low,' Smith said.

Smith recalled that in 2002, when Jeanne Shaheen left the governor's office to make her first run for the U.S. Senate, there were primaries on both sides, and the GOP contest was particularly bitter.

'The money that was spent on the Republican side that year was pretty overwhelming,' he said.

'And the other thing that makes this primary quieter is that it's a presidential election year and people are paying a lot more attention to the presidential election.

'When we had an open governor's seat in 2002, that was a mid-term election year.'

The governor's race

The primaries on both sides of the governor's race have focused on jobs, the economy and taxes.

Lamontagne, 54, is making his fourth run for high political office in the state, having lost primaries for the U.S. House in 1992 and the U.S. Senate in 2010 and a general election for governor in 1996.

He is focusing on his experience and conservative credentials, but insists that as governor he will 'check my political party at the door' and deal fairly with those on both sides of the aisle.

Kevin Smith, 35, who served in the State House in the mid-1990s and was director of the conservative Cornerstone Action advocacy group from 2009 to 2011, said he is the candidate of fresh ideas and the most detailed plans.

Tarr, a 43-year-old self-described 'common man,' said he decided to run as a result of his wife's death in January after she was unable, he said, to obtain federal or state assistance for her medications.

Taxes have been the key issue in the Democratic race as Hassan, 54, like Republicans Smith and Lamontagne, has pledged to veto a sales or income tax.

Cilley, 61, has refused to take the pledge, insisting on a 'conversation' about the budget and revenue.

Kennedy, a 52-year-old retired military officer, has proposed an income tax to provide property tax relief.

U.S. House

Both Republican U.S. House members face primary challenges by lesser-known candidates.

In the 1st District, incumbent Frank Guinta of Manchester is being challenged by Rick Parent of Wolfeboro, while Democratic former U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter has no opposition and will be her party's nominee.

In the 2nd District, incumbent Republican Charlie Bass faces four primary opponents - Gerard Beloin of Concord, Will Dean of Amherst, Miroslaw Dziedzic of Windham and Dennis Lamare of Lee. Democrat Ann McLane Kuster of Hopkinton, who lost to Bass in 2010, has no primary opposition and barring a major upset, will again face Bass in the general election.

Executive Council

Republicans have primaries in two Executive Council districts. In District 1, Ray Burton of Bath, bidding for an 18th term, faces a challenge from Jerry Thibodeau of Rumney, while in District 4, there is a hotly contested three-way race among Hillsborough County Treasurer Robert Burns, restaurateur Chuck Rolecek of Bedford and state Sen. Tom DeBlois of Manchester.

They are bidding to succeed the retiring Ray Wieczorek.

Democrats Colin Van Ostern of Concord, John Shea of Nelson and Shawn Mickelonis of Rochester are competing in an Executive Council primary in District 2, where Republican Dan St. Hilaire is not seeking reelection.

State Senate

In the state Senate, Republicans have eight primaries and Democrats, one.

In District 1, Frank Dumaine of Colebrook and Debi Warner of Littleton are vying to be the nominee for the open seat.

In District 5, the winner of a Republican primary between Claremont residents Cynthia Coolidge Howard and Joe Osgood will compete in the general election against the winner of the lone Democratic primary, which pits state Rep. David Pierce of Hanover against Sandy Harris of Claremont.

In other Republican Senate primaries, Sam Cataldo and Dick Green are competing in District 6; William Grimm of Franklin faces Joshua Youssef of Laconia in District 7; Ken Hawkins, Andy Sanborn and Michael Kenney, all of Bedford, are competing in a bitter District 9 primary; Senate President Peter Bragdon of Milford is being challenged by Daniel Dwyer of Merrimack in District 11; Howard Pearl of Loudon and John Reagan of Deerfield are facing off in District 17 and Dennis Acton of Fremont is challenging incumbent Russell Prescott of Kingston in District 23.

In races for the 400-member House, there are 60 Republican and 12 Democratic primaries.

Voter turnout

Gardner said a record was set for state primary election turnout in 2002, when 155,952 Republicans and 69,965 Democrats, a total of 225,917, voted.

In more recent primaries, he said, 141,172 Republicans and 60,070 Democrats - a total of 202,070, voted in 2010.

In 2008, a presidential election year, 71,963 Republicans and 50,280 Democrats, a total of 122,243, went to the polls on primary day, while in 2006, the primary turnout was 51,024 Republicans and 45,716 Democrats, for a total of 96,740.

And in 2004, which was also a presidential election year, 69,872 Republicans and 60,849 Democrats, for a total of 130,721, voted in the September primary.

Both parties have scheduled 'Unity Breakfasts' for Thursday morning - the Democrats at the Puritan Backroom and the Republicans at the Manchester Country Club.

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