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February 01. 2014 8:23PM

Hassan challenger Hemingway says he'd improve NH business climate

Saying he is the man to turn around a state heading in "the wrong direction," entrepreneur and political activist Andrew Hemingway of Bristol is the first Republican to announce a run against Gov. Maggie Hassan.

"I'm a New Hampshire native and a small-business owner," Hemingway said in an interview Friday. "I saw there was an opportunity to run and felt that now is time to step forward and put forward ideas I have to improve efficiencies and make New Hampshire more business-friendly."

Hemingway, 31, may have a tough battle against Hassan, a Democrat. A recent University of New Hampshire WMUR Granite State poll said Hassan would beat Hemingway 48 percent to 27 percent, with the remaining participants saying they would either vote for someone else or haven't decided.

That poll also showed 51 percent of Granite Staters approve of the job Hassan is doing, while just 21 percent disapprove and 27 percent either don't know or are neutral.

"I honestly didn't have a reaction," Hemingway said of the poll.

Hemingway's biggest challenge, according to that poll, may be name recognition, as just 4 percent find him favorable as a candidate, 4 percent find him unfavorable and 9 percent had a neutral opinion of him. The other 83 percent said they'd never heard of him.

"It's kind of exactly what I expected," he said. "I haven't started a campaign. There's no real reason I would have a high name identification or competitive numbers. I felt like it's a good starting point. Obviously, I have a lot of ground to make up."

Hemingway, for those in the 83 percent who may wish to get to know him better, is the former chairman of the New Hampshire Liberty Caucus and was the state director of Newt Gingrich's presidential campaign. He is an entrepreneur who has started and sold several businesses and now runs grassloot.com, which is a website where users can donate to Republican candidates, committees and causes.

"It's kind of in the fabric of who I am and what I do," he said of owning businesses.

Hemingway ran unsuccessfully last year against Jennifer Horn for the chairmanship of the state Republican Party. He said he believes his message of "living free" will sway a majority of the state's voters.

He said the campaign for party chairman was a race to represent the party's platform and that he sometimes doesn't fit the traditional party mold.

"It's a different race," he said of the governor's race. "It's a different audience."

He said he could attract those people disillusioned by the party and looking for a different perspective.

"I have more of a populist message that . I already know is resonating with a broader audience," he said.

Hemingway said his governorship would focus on growing the state's economy and fixing the state's unfunded pension liability, which is about $4.5 billion.

Hemingway said he would advocate for a link between the University System of New Hampshire and the business community to, according to his campaign website: "match education curriculum with the needs of the work force . "

Hemingway said he had specific ideas for repairing the unfunded pension liability, "but I don't want to go into those right now."

"Our governor . is unwilling to take on the challenge to fix this huge problem that we have. As governor, I would tackle this. I would solve it. We have got to move on this," he said.

Asked his position on other, what he called "hot button" issues, Hemingway said he would not sign a bill to repeal the state's same-sex marriage law, is "open to a path to legalization" of marijuana and, while he wouldn't "go after" Right-to-Work legislation, he supports the controversial proposal conceptually.

He said the idea of "expanded gambling" is a false notion, given that New Hampshire has the nation's oldest lottery and "we have gambling on literally every street corner."

He said he is opposed to the idea of a governor deciding to award "a contract to one company to build one massive casino in one location" and said the free market and local municipalities should have a say in whether casinos are built in the state.

He said he believes the courts, not the governor's office, is where any action on the issue of abortion should be decided, but he does oppose any public funding for private abortions and that, "personally, when given the choice between life or death, I'm always going to choose life."

Hemingway and his wife, Katie, live in Bristol with their children, Morgan and Connor.

Tbuckland@unionleader.com


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