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Dave Solomon has been a reporter or editor for New England news organizations since 1977. He has served as executive editor of both the Portsmouth Herald and the Nashua Telegraph. He joined the reporting staff of the New Hampshire Union Leader in 2012.

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February 22. 2014 11:58PM

John DiStaso's Granite Status: UNH benefactor Paul forming SuperPAC

PAUL'S NEW SUPERPAC. There's a new big-dollar player in New Hampshire politics, and his name is Peter T. Paul.

The Granite Status has learned the wealthy Republican donor and philanthropist, who donated $25 million toward the establishment of the University of New Hampshire business school in his name, is setting up a SuperPAC whose first goal is to help his friend Dan Innis become a congressman.

NH Priorities PAC, which has been filed federally, will also try to help get other, so far unidentified, Republicans into state primaries and the general election.

Sources say Paul is starting off by putting about $500,000 of his own money into the uncoordinated independent expenditure effort and is looking to double that through fundraising.

The bulk of the funding will to be used to boost Innis, the former dean of the Paul College of Business and Economics, in his primary campaign for the 1st District GOP nomination against former U.S. Rep. Frank Guinta and, Innis and Paul hope, eventually against Democratic U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter.

Handling communications and strategy for the SuperPAC is one Andy Leach, who left as U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte's outreach manager in January to set up his own consulting firm, LG Strategies.

Leach was operations director of the state Republican Party during John H. Sununu's tenure as chairman. He previously worked as a staffer in then-Sen. John E. Sununu's office.

Paul, meanwhile, said his PAC will focus on "candidates who offer responsible solutions to problems.

"I want to bring attention to those candidates who offer a way to reach those common goals" shared by "most in New Hampshire."

Paul was Innis' first endorser when he announced for Congress back in September. In fact, he was initially announced as a member of the Innis campaign finance team, but has since severed ties with the campaign's organization.

Paul made it official on Friday that Innis is also the PAC's first endorsement, calling him a "smart businessman who is offering common sense solutions."

Paul is the CEO of Headlands Asset Management LLC, an investment management company he founded in 2008. He also owns West Biofuels and Peter Paul Wines.

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ANNIE AND THE EMPLOYER MANDATE. U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster was against delaying the Affordable Care Act's employer mandate before she was for it.

The question is, when did she change her mind and why?

President Barack Obama last July 2 announced the "Obamacare" mandate that all businesses provide health insurance for their employees would be delayed to Jan. 1, 2015.

Two weeks later, on July 17, the U.S. House passed H.R. 2667, which would have done the same thing: delayed the employer mandate until Jan. 1, 2015. It was drafted before Obama acted, and the vote went forward despite his unilateral move.

The House passed the bill 264 to 161, with about 30 Democrats joining the GOP majority. That's as far as the bill has gone.

In that vote, Kuster was against it.

That's the way the situation remained until just two weeks ago. On Feb. 10, the Obama administration further delayed the mandate to Jan. 1, 2016, for a slice of the business community - those with 50 to 99 employees who work at least 30 hours a week.

Last Thursday, Feb. 19, Kuster appeared on New Hampshire Public Radio's "The Exchange" program and told host Laura Knoy that with costs rising for employers and the lack of competition among providers in the state, she is "looking to 2015, and that's one reason I support the President in the delay of the small-business mandate for another year."

So, now Kuster is in favor of an employer mandate delay.

When the Republicans heard that, they, not surprisingly, launched into election-year criticism.

Ian Prior of the National Republican Congressional Committee said Kuster "has been a disaster" since taking office.

"It's clearly time for Kuster to engage in some self-reflection and re-evaluate how she comports herself as a congresswoman," he said.

Criticism aside, the question remains: When did Kuster change her mind on the employer mandate delay, and why?

And what about the individual mandate scheduled to go into full effect on March 31?

Republicans have recently introduced the "Freeing Americans from Inequitable Requirements" (FAIR) Act, H.R. 4064.

The bill would delay the individual mandate in line with the employer mandate - that is "until the employer health insurance mandate is enforced without exceptions."

We asked Kuster's new spokesman, Rosie Hilmer, to address both questions, and here's what she emailed us.

From Kuster: "The Affordable Care Act is not a perfect law, and I am committed to working with both parties, the business community, and all stakeholders to take common steps to improve it. In light of difficulties with the implementation of this law, I am pleased that the President has taken appropriate steps to give more time to mid-size businesses to make a smooth transition and comply with the law.

"But make no mistake: we can't go back to the days when insurance companies were free to deny coverage to those with pre-existing conditions or drop sick people from their plans. The fact is, this law is allowing young people to stay on their parents' health insurance plans, prohibiting discrimination against patients with pre-existing conditions, and saving seniors money on their prescription drugs."

She went on to say the plan "is already providing insurance for thousands of New Hampshire individuals. To undo these important reforms will do nothing to strengthen our health care system.

"Instead of refighting old political battles, Republicans and Democrats should work together to strengthen the Affordable Care Act, fix any problems, and move forward so we can ensure every hardworking Granite Stater who needs it has access to health care."

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IS HE IN? The Granite Status confirmed Friday that former Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Scott Brown has been making calls during the past two weeks to prominent New Hampshire Republicans.

The state's two top GOP legislative leaders, Senate President Chuck Morse and House Republican Leader Gene Chandler, told us they were called by Brown last week.

Neither would disclose his private conversation with Brown, but we understand from others who were called that they were essentially courtesy, due diligence, types of calls.

And the takeaway was that Brown is serious about a potential run, but no definitive word on when he will make a final decision.

Executive Councilor Chris Sununu also confirmed he heard from Brown "maybe 10 days ago."

Sununu called Brown "potentially a really exciting candidate, and I love to hear that he's making these calls. It's a winnable race. It appears he's taking the right steps if he is going to run."

Also, Republican National Committeeman Steve Duprey said he speaks with Brown "every once in awhile and we discuss the Senate race and the pros and cons of him running." He also told Brown the race is "winnable."

Brown is far from finished making calls to New Hampshire Republicans. The list is expected to grow in the coming days and weeks.

Brown recently renewed his contract as a contributor with Fox News, and he also has a trip to Iowa planned in April, leaving his intentions unclear.

These are not the first round of calls to top Granite State Republicans Brown has made. In December, we reported Brown had called former Govs. Steve Merrill and Craig Benson, as well as Sen. Ayotte.

But if Brown is going to run, the time is approaching for him to make a move, many Republicans say.

Word of the calls came as a new poll released Friday by Public Policy Polling for the League of Conservation Voters showed U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen leading Brown, 47 to 39 percent. An early January PPP poll had her barely ahead, 46 to 42 percent.

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NHYR SPAT. With the District 1 Executive Council special election a little more than two weeks away, March 11, each state party is working feverishly on behalf of its candidate, Republican Joe Kenney and Democrat Mike Cryans.

Congressional hopeful (and former congressman) Guinta is helping Kenney by having his campaign host a phone bank Thursday night at state party headquarters.

Joining will be some members of the New Hampshire Young Republicans executive board - but not all.

And there's the rub.

NHYR Chairman Molly Sanborn says her group had been planning to do its own phone bank for Kenney on Thursday, but after Guinta camp officials rescheduled theirs from the night of a recent snowstorm to Thursday, the idea brought up at a recent board meeting was to combine the two.

A few Innis supporters on the board, she confirmed, were concerned about two issues and wouldn't participate.

First, to team with Team Guinta would make it look like the NHYR was taking sides in the primary. And second, the Innis backers were opposed to helping Kenney because of his opposition back in 2007 to civil unions and allowing gay people to adopt children.

Innis is openly gay, though he has focused his campaign on economic, not social, issues.

Innis had no role in his supporters' complaints and, in fact, when Kenney won the GOP Executive Council primary on Jan. 21, he posted his congratulations on Twitter.

Sanborn would not identify the dissenters, but we've learned they were Stephanie Webb, who is Innis' finance director, and Tyler Deaton, who is not on the Innis campaign but is a partner at B-Fresh Consulting, which has been led by Chris Stewart, who is currently on leave from the firm to serve as a senior adviser to the Innis campaign.

Deaton, a key Republican gay rights activist, two weeks ago publicly complained about the state party inviting former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum to its upcoming Northeast Republican Leadership Conference due to his past controversial statements about gays.

Two years ago, Webb was the finance director for Ovide Lamontagne's campaign. Lamontagne is currently general counsel at Americans United for Life.

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NEW CAMPAIGN MANAGER. Still on the congressional front, 2nd District U.S. House candidate Marilinda Garcia has a campaign manager.Tom Szold is a product of the GOP-oriented DCI Group public affairs firm in Washington, where he worked on health care, immigration and technological issues.

In 2011, he was the Republican National Committee's communications director during Mitt Romney's general election presidential campaign in Iowa.

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VOICING OPPOSITION. The Manchester Republican Committee voted last Thursday to oppose "Medicaid Expansion and Obamacare in New Hampshire," putting it at odds with the GOP leadership in the state Senate.

Senate President Chuck Morse and his Senate supporters are not calling the health insurance expansion plan "Medicaid" expansion, but plan opponents say that's exactly what it is.

The Manchester GOP chair, Tammy Simmons, said: "While some Republican senators have declared their support for this bill, the average Republican voter opposes Medicaid expansion and realizes that it could ultimately lead to a new form of broad-based tax for our state.

"As a committee, we felt it was important to send a message to all of the Republican senators by reaffirming our opposition to this damaging bill."

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"PROMINENT DEMOCRAT." That's all the state Democratic Party is saying at the moment about its featured speaker at its annual Shaheen-McIntyre "100 Club" fundraiser dinner, slated for April 19 at the Executive Court in Manchester.

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


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