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July 22. 2013 4:23PM

Kathy Sullivan: Where are the Republicans willing to challenge NH's top Democrats?

EXECUTIVE COUNCILOR Chris Sununu's decision to run for re-election rather than another office such as governor or U.S. senator was a serious blow to the New Hampshire Republican Party's 2014 recruitment efforts. Any time a Sununu runs for office in New Hampshire, money gushes into the campaign like snow melting in the spring. Combined with John E. Sununu's forgoing a race for the U.S. Senate, one wonders whether the family has decided that 2014 just is not going to be a good year for Republicans.

Chris Sununu's decision not to run against Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan was smart. Gov. Hassan has grown in popularity since her election in 2012. In April, Public Policy Polling showed her with a net 15 percent approval rating. Also in April, UNH showed the governor with a 38 percent favorable rating among independent voters, the bloc that determines election winners.

Gov. Hassan's first term accomplished much of her agenda. The budget restored investments in both the Community College System and the University System of New Hampshire. Scholarship aid was increased at public and private institutions of higher learning. On the business side, the research and development tax credit was doubled. More money was provided to the stressed mental health system. The capital budget finally provides funding for a badly needed women's prison.

Gov. Hassan's appointments also have been met with praise. Showing bipartisanship, she appointed Republican Jeff Rose to lead the Department of Resources and Economic Development. Naming Jim Craig as head of the Department of Labor gives that agency an experienced leader who understands the Legislature, as Craig is a former Democratic leader in the New Hampshire House. The appointment of the talented Joe Foster as attorney general was well received by all.

The Foster appointment caused embarrassment for New Hampshire Republican Party chair Jennifer Horn. She had attacked Gov. Hassan's legal counsel, Lucy Hodder, mistakenly believing press speculation that Hodder might be the nominee. She wasn't, and Horn's attacks only succeeded in making Horn look silly while angering high-profile Republicans who have worked with Hodder.

Gov. Hassan did not win every vote. The plan for a single high-end casino did not pass. But the people support the governor, not the House of Representatives, on this issue. The vast majority of New Hampshire residents understands there is a need to pay for badly needed infrastructure repair and other investments to move New Hampshire forward. And they agree that the sensible way of doing so is to expand legalized gambling. While Medicaid expansion did not take effect, expectations are that a study commission will produce a road map acceptable to a legislative majority.

Gov. Hassan also is well-liked on a personal level. She is following in the Lynch tradition of attending openings, touring businesses and just generally being out in the public to meet with Granite Staters and promote the state.

Currently, the only Republican seriously considering challenging Gov. Hassan is state Sen. Andy Sanborn, who is sabotaging his own candidacy. In May, he called Gov. Hassan "Haggie" on Twitter. Sanborn apologized, saying that he mistakenly combined "Maggie" and "Hassan," begging the question: If you do not know enough to proofread Twitter posts, should you really be running for governor?

More recently, he laughingly compared health care reform to the San Francisco plane crash, adding bad taste to his resume. Sanborn semi-apologized, saying "if I offended anyone, I am sorry," thus joining the club of elected officials who cannot admit to messing up. Instead, they vaguely insinuate that there must be something wrong with the people who are offended.

Filing is less than a year away. While John Lynch made a successful late entry in 2004, there is no Republican John Lynch, and Maggie Hassan, unlike Craig Benson, is popular both with her party and the public at large.

The New Hampshire GOP's candidate problems extend to other races. State Sen. Jeb Bradley is mentioned as a U.S. Senate candidate, but he appears reluctant to commit to challenging the popular Jeanne Shaheen. No Republican candidate for Congress has emerged in the 1st District. National Republicans are promoting former congressman Frank Guinta, but Guinta knows the perils of running with a weak ticket. Since another loss would be detrimental to his long-term political health, he may pass on this cycle rather than run on a ticket led by Sanborn. Meanwhile, in the 2nd District, candidate Bill O'Brien is still the same Bill O'Brien who led House Republicans to minority status.

The Republicans have trumpeted the news that Mitt Romney and some possible presidential aspirants will be helping with a couple of fundraisers. Unless there is progress on the candidate front, however, there may be no one to support with the proceeds.

Kathy Sullivan is a Manchester attorney and member of the Democratic National Committee. She was chairman of the state Democratic Party from 1999-2007.


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