All Sections

Home | Granite Status

John DiStaso's Granite Status: New Manchester GOP consulting firm could play in South Carolina special House race

Senior Political Reporter

January 09. 2013 10:49AM

WEDNESDAY, JAN. 9. STRONG PICK-UP. Newly formed RightOn Strategies of Manchester has picked up its first major client, a potential candidate for what will likely be a closely watched U.S. House race in South Carolina.

The Manchester firm, co-founded by Mike Biundo, Derek Dufresne and Kory Wood, has been hired by Republican Andy Patrick for the U.S. House special election in South Carolina's 1st Congressional District.

Patrick is exploring a candidacy for the post vacated by U.S. Rep. Tim Scott, who was tapped by Gov. Nikki Haley to fill the vacancy left in the U.S. Senate when Jim DeMint resigned.

Patrick is a state representative from Beaufort County and a former state trooper and Secret Service special agent.

Biundo became acquainted with Patrick while working in the key state of South Carolina as national campaign manager for former Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum's presidential campaign. He later worked for the Mitt Romney campaign as deputy national coalitions director.

Several other Republicans are being mentioned as potential candidates, as well as Beaufort County Democratic Chairman Blaine Lotz.

The primary for the special election is March 19, a run-off is slated for April 2 and the general election is May 7.

As we reported on Tuesday (see item below), RightOn Strategies is also organizing a meeting of leading New Hampshire Republican activists on Feb. 7 to discuss the results of the Nov. 6, 2012 general election.

(Earlier Granite Status reports follow)

TUESDAY, JAN. 8. WHAT HAPPENED AND WHY. Against the backdrop of increasing tensions in the race for NHGOP chairman (see our item below), conservative activist Mike Biundo and his consulting partners are making a push for a strong showing at a meeting of state party leaders being organized by their new RightOn Strategies.

In invitations for the Feb. 7 meeting at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics sent to top GOP leaders, Biundo and partners Kory Wood and Derek Dufresne write that the meeting is intended "to give an analysis of what we believe happened, where New Hampshire Republicans go from here, and give you an open opportunity to voice your thoughts and ideas."

They say the meeting is "by invitation only" and will be closed to the press to allow "elected officials and activists to have an open discussion."

By the time the meeting is held, the NHGOP will have chosen its next chairman. Biundo, in a recent opinion piece in the New Hampshire Union Leader, blamed the GOP losses in the state and nationally in the last election on a voter identification program and overall ground organization that was inferior to the Democrats' operations.

(Earlier Granite Status reports follow.)

TUESDAY, JAN. 8: "LIENING" ON HORN. With just more than two weeks to go before the Republican State Committee elects a new chairman, the race for the post is getting a bit nasty.

Jennifer Horn is the target of a recent attack focusing on her (and her husband's) personal finances. Horn's opponent, Andrew Hemingway, said he does not believe the attacks are emanating from his supporters and he has written on Facebook he does not condone personal attacks against Horn.

At issue is the fact that Horn and her husband have federal tax liens totaling $92,184 filed against them by the IRS for 2008 and 2009. Horn confirmed that the liens exist and said she and her husband are working to pay off what they owe.

In a written statement, she said, "Like a lot of families across New Hampshire, the recession took a toll on our household. My husband was under-employed for a period of time and we were forced to make tough decisions, but we have been working with the IRS to resolve this matter as quickly as possible. "It's a shame that this race for state party chair now includes personal attacks on my family," Horn wrote. "While others may want to spend their time attacking other Republicans, I will remain 100 percent focused on building a stronger New Hampshire Republican Party."

Does this personal issue reflect on her ability to run the New Hampshire GOP? That's for the 506 members of the state committee to decide on Jan. 26. Hemingway himself said he had no comment on that question. He also said he has been the target of personal attacks regarding his personal life.

"I have nothing to do with these attacks against Jennifer," he said. "It's just part of being in the public eye." Hemingway, meanwhile, has been endorsed in recent weeks by former U.S. Sen. Gordon Humphrey. "Both candidates are dedicated, heart-felt conservatives," Humphrey wrote. "That's vitally important, because principles are vitally important. "But it's also vitally important to move the GOP into the 21st Century in terms of the mechanics of winning, bringing to bear maximum use of advanced technology to find new Republicans, register them and ensure they vote. The Democrats have far surpassed us in this.

"Only one candidate is an expert in the use of computer technology and social media to win elections," wrote Humphrey. "That candidate is Andrew Hemingway, and he has my confidence and support."

Horn and Hemingway have sent out letters to state committee members in recent days making their cases for the chairmanship. Hemingway writes, "We must sharpen our message, implement new technologies and rebuild our grassroots infrastructure.

"Our state party needs to be better funded and better staff to ensure we have the resources to create an environment where Republicans can be successful." Horn writes, "We need a chairman who understands the many moving part of a campaign and the structure of a political party." She writes that the chairman is needed "who not only understands contemporary technologies, but also has the political understanding to implement it strategically to assist us in winning elections."

Horn has also included a four-page plan she calls, "Priorities for the NHGOP: A Plan for a Vibrant, Winning Republican Party." Hemingway also has a specific plan and has been talking about them during Facebook Town Halls. Last night's event focused on his financial plan.

Also, controversial former presidential candidate Andy Martin this week announced he will run for the state chairmanship. Martin, a perennial candidate for a host of offices in various states over the years, was a controversial figure during the last New Hampshire presidential primary campaign. He was dis-invited to a local Republican committee after past comments he made came to light that were construed by some as being anti-Semitic.

(Earlier Granite Status reports follow.)

MONDAY, JAN. 7: PRAISE, SKEPTICISM. The state's two U.S. senators predictably differed in their views of President Barack Obama's choice for Secretary of Defense on Monday. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen praised Republican former Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, President Barack Obama's nominee for Secretary of Defense, as a "strong and independent leader" who "valiantly defended our nation in Vietnam, where he earned two Purple Hearts."

Shaheen, a Democrat and Obama supporter, said that in the Senate from 1997 to 2009, Hagel was "a voice of pragmatism and principle." She stopped short of formally endorsing him, however, saying she looks forward to speaking with him and "considering" his nomination.

Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte said, "While I deeply respect Senator Hagel's brave service in Vietnam, I am concerned by several positions he took as a senator, particularly his long-standing opposition to increased Iran sanctions and his views regarding Hezbollah and Hamas, as well as our close ally Israel.

"As the Armed Services Committee reviews his nomination, I will vigorously question him on these and other issues," Ayotte said.

Shaheen and Ayotte serve on the Senate Armed Services Committee, which will hold a confirmation hearing on Hagel. Obama's nominee for CIA director, John Brennan, will go before the Senate Intelligence Committee for a hearing.

(Earlier Granite Status reports follow.)

FRIDAY, JAN. 4: GOING VIRAL. A Democratic state lawmaker's recent web post critical of the libertarian-leaning Free State Project has gone virtually viral in the past few days and, as one might expect, has drawn criticism.

Reacting to reports that the Free State Project is aggressively trying to bring 20,000 supporters to live in the state over the next two years, Rep. Cynthia Chase, D-Keene, wrote on "In the opinion of this Democrat, Free Staters are the single biggest threat the state is facing today."

She went on to write that while there is "legally, nothing we can do to prevent them from moving here to take over the state, which is their openly stated goal," she proposed making "the environment here so unwelcoming that some will choose not to come, and some may actually leave."

Chase continued, "One way is to pass measures that will restrict the 'freedoms' that they think they will find here. Another is to shine the bright light of publicity on who they are and why they are coming." She wrote that the last election "was a repudiation of their extremism.

"Ultimately," Chase continued, "the Free Staters want NH to be a platform state for them to export their views to the rest of the country. Some of these folks dress up pretty well, but if you check their website you will find that they are really wolves in sheep's clothing."

The post this week was picked up by the website, the creation of the late conservative commentator Andrew Breitbart, with columnist Warner Todd Huston opining: "Imagine if a legislator had written a blog post targeting the freedoms of gays, or women, or some other minority? One would think that the media would go wild with such a story.

"But here we have an elected official suggesting that government be used in the United States of America to eliminate freedoms for certain citizens in order to gain political control, and the media is silent."

Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh mentioned the controversy on his program on Friday and posted a link to the Breitbart web site commentary on the top of his web page. He also wrote about it in a web commentary.

Limbaugh did not mention the Free State Project specifically, saying instead that Chase wanted to restrict the freedoms of "Granite State conservatives." Free Staters, however, are generally viewed as more libertarian than conservative. He also posted a photo of Chase and wrote that she "looks like a Teamster."

A post on includes a video from libertarian author Thomas E. Woods, Jr., who says the Chase comment made him "doubly enthusiastic" about the Free State Project, "just to drive this woman crazy. It's become an end in itself to me."

Locally, state Rep. Mark Warden, R-Manchester, a Free State leader, said, the Chase post was "inappropriate, of course, and a bit chauvinistic for anyone to say they don't want people moving to New Hampshire. If you replaced her reference to us with 'Irish' or 'Indian' or 'women' or 'gay people,' she would be in every newspaper in the country as one of the biggest bigots around.

"But it's OK for them to bad-mouth people moving here because they believe in more liberty or smaller government," said Warden, who, as a real estate agent, is helping Free Staters relocate to the state.

Chase could not be reached for comment Friday. Democratic National Committeewoman Kathy Sullivan said that while she could not speak for Chase, the lawmaker is entitled to her opinion, "just as the Free Staters are entitled to their opinions."

Sullivan said Free Staters have a variety of opinions on various topics, but must "contend with" opinions sometimes expressed by leaders in favor of secession, even though not all Free Staters support secession.

Sullivan said that if Free Staters run for office they should "disclose that they are part of that organized effort," but she said she disagrees with the idea of trying to keep anyone from moving into the state.

"Would I prefer that more people of my political persuasion, who support strong public education, for instance, move into the state? Yes, but that's not what our democracy is," Sullivan said. "Walls don't work."

She said she was not surprised Limbaugh picked up on the matter, but added, "Maybe everyone on either side needs to calm down and talk to each other."

(Earlier Granite Status reports follow.)

THURSDAY, JAN. 3, UPDATE: KELLY'S KEY ROLE, NEW COMMITTEES. As the 113th Congress took office Thursday, U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte was appointed to an important role advising the Senate Republican Leadership.

Ayotte was named a counsel to Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., a role held by former U.S. Sen. Judd Gregg several years ago. She was also named to two new committees and will continue serving on three others.

In the role of counsel, Ayotte will have a seat at the GOP leadership table and will offer input and advice to McConnell and other top Republican senators. She is one of only two GOP senators to serve as counsel to leadership, along with Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. McConnell said in a statement that Ayotte "brings invaluable insight to our conference on issues that affect American families.

"Firmly committed to getting our fiscal house in order, she will perform a critical role as a member of the Senate Republican Leadership team," said McConnell.

Ayotte was also named to the Senate Armed Services; Commerce, Science and Transportation; Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs; and Budget committees as well as a special committee on Aging.

Ayotte spokesman Liz Johnson said Ayotte is new to the Homeland Security Committee and is returning to Aging Committee, where she briefly served two years ago before leaving to serve on the Budget Committee. She will no longer serve on the Small Business Committee, Johnson said. Ayotte served on the Armed Services, Commerce and Budget committees in the last Congress.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., last month announced she will serve on the Senate Appropriations Committee and will no longer serve on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Shaheen will continue to serve on the Foreign Relations; Armed Services and Small Business committees. Ayotte said McConnell picks two GOP senators who are not elected to leadership and "have them participate at the leadership table, giving him advice.

"I appreciate the opportunity to be at the table and give my input," she said. "If you're at the table you can offer your opinions. "They may not always be taken but it's good to be there in a position to do that," Ayotte said in an interview. Ayotte said the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee is a major assignment because "it is the oversight committee in the Senate."

"It's not only a strong committee in terms of really looking at each agency and how we do things in Washington, but also we'll have strong Republican leadership on it that will be very focused on delivering better government to the people and looking for ways to eliminate redundancy." Ayotte said "significant challenges" continue to face the nation on the homeland security front.

"We still, post-9/11, need to focus on making sure we have coordination to obtain the best intelligence to prevent terrorist attacks," Ayotte said. She also said the committee has been involved in probing the breakdown in security that led to the deaths of four Americans at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya on Sept. 11 of last year. She said numerous Benghazi probes will continue this year, including a likely probe of the military response by the Armed Services Committee.

Ayotte said she still believes the "best method would have been to have a select committee to allow us to look at the big picture." She also hopes that outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will testify "after she recovers from her unfortunate blood clot," as well as Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.

Also, she said, "I will continue to be a strong advocate for Pease and the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard." And as a member of the Budget Committee, Ayotte said, "I have one wish for the New Year: that we actually do a budget this year in the United States Senate."

(Earlier Granite Status reports follow.)

THURSDAY, JAN. 3, UPDATE: UNINSPIRING. A former New Hampshire congressman, speaking on behalf of the bipartisan Campaign to Fix the Debt-NH, says the deal to avert the "fiscal cliff" was a meager effort. "Tuesday's debt deal was a move in the right direction, but it wasn't much of one," said Dick Swett, a Democratic former U.S. House member from the state's 2nd District. "Lawmakers need to do a lot more to address country's real debt problems," said Swett, a member of the Fix the Debt Steering Committee. "As we enter the New Year, I encourage legislators to constructively cooperate and collaborate, and put the good of our nation ahead of politics by addressing the nation's long-term debt problems."

The New Hampshire campaign said the agreement "did little to tackle the biggest drivers of the country's fiscal problems or tackle the growing national debt. Without meaningful entitlement, tax and spending reforms the debt will continue to grow, continue to endanger jobs and economic growth, and continue to put an even greater burden on future generations."

The local group is calling for "reforms to further control spending, ensure the sustainability and solvency of entitlement programs, and reform the U.S. tax code to promote and greater revenue."

(Earlier Granite Status Reports follow.)

(Note: the Granite Status was on vacation from Dec. 22 through Jan. 2)

THURSDAY, DEC. 20: GOP SOUL-SEARCHING. RightOn Strategies, the consulting firm started up in recent weeks by veteran conservative strategist Mike Biundo of Manchester, has made progress since our initial web report this week on its planned meeting of conservative and GOP leaders "to discuss," as Biundo put it, "a plan for 2014/2016 and reflect on the lessons learned from 2012."

The meeting is now set for Feb. 7 at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College. Biundo said both current candidates for NHGOP chair, Jennifer Horn and Andrew Hemingway, have promised to attend regardless of the outcome of the party election on Jan. 26. Also confirmed to attend is NHGOP vice chair Cliff Hurst, Biundo said. Invites have been issued to leaders of conservative groups, former and current office holders as well as grassroots and other party leaders.

Biundo said he and his RightOn partners, Derek Dufresne and Kory Wood, both formerly of outgoing Rep. Frank Guinta's campaign, will give an analysis of "what we think happened and where to we go from here, as well as give others an open opportunity to voice their I ideas and thoughts." Biundo said the meeting will be open, "so we are not limiting the guest list to only those we think of but we will cap attendance to a manageable level so we can be productive."

- - - - - - - -

"NOT INCONSISTENT." GOP chair candidate Horn said she is not now and never has been inconsistent on her pro-Second Amendment position.

Critics this week pointed out that when Horn ran for Congress in 2008, she said in an interview that she backed "common-sense restrictions to protect kids from guns" and then five months later pledged "I will never vote to place restrictions on the Second Amendment and will always fight to preserve this right."

"There is no inconsistency," Horn said yesterday. "My record on guns has been clear and consistent. I am a strong, passionate defender of our Second Amendment rights and always have been. I also believe, as the NRA does, that children should be educated and supervised in their use of guns."

She said she has received "A" ratings from the NRA, high marks from the New Hampshire Firearms Coalition and the backing of some of the state's strongest pro-gun advocates, including former state Reps. Bev Rodeschin and Steve Cunningham and Grafton County gun shop owner Skip Riley.

She also noted that as chairman of party platform committee, "I made sure there was a strong pro-Second Amendment" statement. Her opponent, Hemingway, said he had no qualms with the party platform on guns. "It's right where it should be," he said.

- - - - - - - -

WHAT THE PLATFORMS SAY. Here, by the way, is what the two major political parties' platforms say with respect to guns: Republicans: "Protect the rights of law-abiding citizens to own and carry firearms to defend themselves, their families and their property; oppose any taxation, licensing restrictions, or registration of firearms; oppose the requirement to obtain a license to carry a concealed firearm; oppose any 'assault weapons' ban; support the universal right of self defense wherever one has a legal right to be."

Democrats: "We believe in policies that appropriately balance the rights of individuals to protect themselves, to responsibly own and use firearms, and to live in a community safe from violence."

- - - - - - - -

A SHAHEEN VICTORY. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen won a major legislative victory this week when House and Senate conferees approved repealing a 21-year-old policy that denied women in the military insurance coverage for abortion in cases of rape or incest.

The amendment will put "Department of Defense rules in line with other federal policies and ensure that women in uniform receive the same reproductive rights as the civilians they protect," according to a statement from Shaheen's office. Democrat Shaheen, who is staunchly pro-choice, called it "an important step to restoring equity to military service women."

Earlier this month, Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte joined a bipartisan group of lawmakers supporting Shaheen's amendment.

"While I strongly oppose abortion, I have also been clear that I support exceptions in cases when the life of the mother is endangered or in cases of rape or incest," Ayotte wrote several weeks ago. Ayotte has long opposed the use of federal funding for abortion. But her support for the Shaheen amendment is not inconsistent with that position, a spokesman said.

"She opposes the use of federal funds for abortions except in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother - which is consistent with current law governing health care for federal employees," said spokesman Jeff Grappone.

- - - - - - - -

NEW HASSAN STAFF. New staff hires in Gov.-elect Maggie Hassan's office include: -- William Craig, her former state Senate legislative aide, as policy director -- Amy Kennedy, policy adviser; former deputy state political director for Obama's reelection campaign -- Chris Kennedy, legislative director; current Senate Democratic Caucus staff director -- Jennifer Kuzma, appointments director and liaison to the Executive Council, her current role in Gov. John Lynch's office. Hassan's Office Administration team comprises former Lynch aide Alice Chamberlin, former Planned Parenthood policy director Jennifer Frizzell, attorney Steve Gordon and former state economic development director Mike Vlacich.

- - - - - - - -

MARTIN MOVES OVER. Gene Martin is taking Chris Kennedy place as staff director of the Senate Democratic Caucus staff at the State House. Martin worked several years ago as a state Senate legislative aide before joining the New Hampshire Democratic Party office as political director. In this year's election cycle, he ran the Committee to Elect House Democrats, a PAC, which was obviously quite successful.

- - - - - - - -

THE HOUSE MAJORITY LEADERSHIP. House Speaker Terie Norelli officially announced her leadership team yesterday, including Reps. Naida Kaen of Lee; deputy speaker; Steve Shurtleff of Penacook, majority leader; Gary Richardson of Hopkinton, majority floor leader; and Jeff Goley of Manchester, deputy floor leader. Assistant majority leaders are Reps. Beth Arsenault of Laconia, Mary Cooney of Plymouth, Susan Ford of Easton, Suzanne Gottling of Sunapee, Melanie Levesque of Brookline, Robert Perry of Strafford, Deanna Rollo of Rollinsford and Stephen Spratt of Greenville.

- - - - - - - -

AT THE WHITE HOUSE. A group of high-profile state Democrats were at the White House this week for a Christmas party that included Obama supporters from Northeastern states. Among the Granite Staters who attended were state Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley, state Senate Democratic Leader Sylvia Larsen, state Sen. Martha Fuller Clark and her husband, Geoffrey, lobbyist Jim Demers (who was the state's very first Obama activist); Executive Councilor-elect Chris Pappas, speaker Norelli, former U.S. Rep. Paul Hodes, Democratic National Committeewoman Kathy Sullivan and her husband, John Rist, and State Employees Association President Diana Lacey.

- - - - - - - -

Quick takes:

-- D.C. gossip: Ayotte dined at Monocle Restaurant Tuesday night with former Reagan adviser and current Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan. We understand it was a "getting-to-know-you" get-together.

-- There will be no rest for Stephanie DuBois. She leaves as outgoing U.S. Rep. Charlie Bass's spokesman on Jan. 2 and will start the next day at the National Community Pharmacists Association in Alexandria, Va., as director of communications and marketing. The NCPA represents 23,000 pharmacies, including about 20 in New Hampshire.

-- Tyler Deaton, former spokesman for the pro-same sex marriage group Standing Up for New Hampshire Families, has joined B-Fresh Consulting as managing director.

-- As the Granite Status wraps up its 31st year of reporting New Hampshire's political news, we wish all of you and your families a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Hold your children (and parents) especially close this holiday season.

-- Watch for updates as news occurs the rest of this week on, and we'll be back in print in January.

- - - - - - - -

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

Granite Status

More Headlines