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Dan Tuohy has covered politics in the Granite State since 1993 and has reported from the Statehouse. A New Hampshire native, Tuohy is a past president of the New Hampshire Press Association.
March 13. 2014 4:31PM

John DiStaso's Granite Status: Scott Brown announces exploratory committee for US Senate run


Scott Brown, during the Northeast Republican Leadership Conference, at the Crowne Plaza in Nashua on Friday. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)

FRIDAY, MARCH 14; EXPLORATORY COMMITTEE OFFICIAL. With scathing criticism of the "disastrous" Affordable Care Act, former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown Friday announced the formation of an exploratory committee to "prepare" for a run for the New Hampshire U.S. Senate seat held by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. But he did so without mentioning her name.

"This isn't about Jeanne Shaheen," Brown told the Granite Status after his 20 minute speech to about 300 Republicans gathered for a Northeast Republican Leadership Conference, hosted by the New Hampshire Republican Party, at the Crowne Plaza Hotel.

"This is about New Hampshire."

Brown ended speculation that had been rampant for about a year by announcing the committee, to be headed by long-time state GOP operative Andy Leach, and by announcing the beginning of a listening tour tomorrow in the North Country.

Brown, represented Massachusetts in the U.S. Senate after winning a special election in 2010 for the seat left vacant by the death of Sen. Edward Kennedy, spent much of his speech trying to reinforce his New Hampshire credentials.

He noted that he was born at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, "which I still believe and always s will believe is in Portsmouth," and spent much time at Hampton Beach. He recently moved to his long-time vacation home in Rye and registered to vote there.

"It wasn't that long ago when the Democratic establishment in Washington was feeling very, very comfortable," Brown said, "like they just couldn't lose."

He said "they kept forcing Obamacare upon us," and now, he said, "they are already in panic mode."

"A big political wave is about break in America and the Obamacare Democrats are on the wrong side of that wave," he said.

He issued a reminder that President Barack Obama and the Democrats promised "If you like your health plan you can keep it. Then the attitude became, 'You're going to change your plan and like it. Period.'

"If we don't like Obamacare, we can get rid of it. Period. The whole thing is such a fiasco. And I'm tired of it."

Brown said, "There is only one way, one way to get rid of Obamacare once and for all, and that's to get rid of the Obama Democrats who rammed it through Congress and forced it on the American people."

That includes, he said, the "go-along Democratic senators who vote 99 to 100 percent of the time with the President," he said. "It's time for the whole crowd to go."

He said the ACA is the "centerpiece" of an agenda "that is holding the whole country back."

Brown said Obama "re-writes laws and acts of Congress as he sees fit" while the IRS targets "who is unfavored by the federal establishment."

Calling for a "fresh approach, a new approach," Brown called for "running the governments by the principles and limits of the United States Constitution for starters."

He said that while "so much of my life played out in Massachusetts," it is also true that "a big part of it was always right here in New Hampshire."

He said he wanted to "reflect back for a moment so we can move forward on fact."

His parents met in Hampton Beach, and his father was an airman at Pease Air Force Base and he spent much time in the Granite State as a youth. He called the Seacoast a "refuge" during troubled times.

The state Democratic Party greeted Brown's announcement by charging, "Scott Brown is for Scott Brown and the Wall Street and Big Oil millionaires that back him, not New Hampshire. If he manages to survive a Republican primary against Republicans who are actually from New Hampshire, he'll have an even tougher general election against Jeanne Shaheen whose common sense leadership makes a difference for New Hampshire.

"New Hampshire isn't going to let Scott Brown and his special interest supporters buy themselves a Senate seat to push reckless plans to privatize Social Security, end Medicare's guaranteed benefit for seniors, and raise taxes on middle class families to pay for more tax breaks for big corporations, oil companies and millionaires."

Earlier in the conference, Sen. Kelly Ayotte also criticized the President on the ACA for "playing T-Ball" with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for calling for a "reset button" with Russia.

Ayotte has been mentioned as a possible presidential or vice presidential contender herself in two years, but she said, "I want nothing more than to serve New Hampshire. This is my home and what I want to do."

But she said Clinton's reference to a "reset button" with Russia and "the fact that she was a big part of the Obama foreign policy. I'm very concerned about the implications of the decisions that have been made, particularly with the reset button."

She said of Brown's exploratory committee, "I served with Scott. I have respect for Scott. The fact that he's opening an exploratory committee, I think it's exciting for the race."

News of former Sen. Scott Brown's exploratory committee for a U.S. Senate run did not keep Brown's likely GOP primary competitors from the Northeast Republican Leadership Conference in Nashua.

On hand were all three of the announced candidates for the seat, former Sen. Bob Smith, former state Sen. Jim Rubens and conservative activist Karen Testerman.

Smith said he intends to challenge Brown, as well as the other announced candidates to a debate in each of the 10 New Hampshire counties.

He said he, Rubens an Testerman "are being ignored by the establishment.

"This is really something. To have a Massachusetts liberal being promoted, actually being pushed, by the powers in Washington and the establishment here in New Hampshire to run against three people who have been on the ground here for decades is really pretty bizarre.

"I say, 'No way.' I don't think it's going to sell. I'm going to make the case. When we desert our principles as a party we lose," said Smith.

"Many of the people who are promoting him are the same ones who opposed Ronald Reagan. I just think it's bizarre that they would insult not only the candidates but also the voters," said Smith.

Brown "is closer to Jeanne Shaheen than he is to me," said Smith. "He's anti-gun. He's anti-life. He voted for 'Romneycare' in the Massachusetts legislature and when it was convenient to vote against it, he voted against Obamacare in the U.S. Senate."

Smith also charged that Brown "voted with Obama 70 percent of the time. He ought to be in a Democratic primary."

Rubens agreed.

"Since last June, it's been Washington's pick versus the grassroots here," he said.

"We have the most sophisticated Republican primary voter probably of anywhere in the country and I have been to towns in every county two or three times and they want to ask question and they want to be sure you know what you're talking about."

Rubens refused to criticize the state GOP as Smith did, saying, "Most of this is emanating from Washington."

Rubens said he has released long lists of supporters from all factions of the state GOP.

"We're putting the party together," he said. "We have everyone from Brad Cook to Gordon Humphrey to (Rep.) Neal Kurk.



(Earlier Granite Status reports follow.)


FRIDAY MARCH 14: LISTENING TOUR: Scott Brown's exploratory committee announced that he will begin a "listening tour" of the state beginning tomorrow in the North Country.

Brown will announce shortly that he is forming the committee to explore a run for the U.S. Senate seat held by Jeanne Shaheen.

A new Brown web video, featuring VFW leader Paul Chevalier and others, will be released shortly. It is entitled, as is his exploratory campaign, "Main Streets and Living Rooms."
(Earlier Granite Status reports follow.)


FRIDAY, MARCH 14: "BRING IT ON." News of former Sen. Scott Brown's exploratory committee for a U.S. Senate run did not keep Brown's likely GOP primary competitors from the Northeast Republican Leadership Conference in Nashua.

On hand were all three of the announced candidates for the seat, former Sen. Bob Smith, former state Sen. Jim Rubens and conservative activist Karen Testerman.

Smith said he intends to challenge Brown, as well as the other announced candidates to a debate in each of the 10 New Hampshire counties.

He said he, Rubens an Testerman "are being ignored by the party establishment.

"This is really something. To have a Massachusetts liberal being promoted, actually being pushed, by the powers in Washington and the establishment here in New Hampshire to run against three people who have been on the ground here for decades is really pretty bizarre.

"I say, 'No way.' I don't think it's going to sell. I'm going to make the case. When we desert our principles as a party we lose," said Smith.

"Many of the people who are promoting him are the same ones who opposed Ronald Reagan. I just think it's bizarre that they would insult not only the candidates but also the voters," said Smith.

Brown "is closer to Jeanne Shaheen than he is to me," said Smith. "He's anti-gun. He's anti-life. He voted for 'Romneycare' in the Massachusetts legislature and when it was convenient to vote against it, he voted against Obamacare in the U.S. Senate."

Smith also charged that Brown "voted with Obama 70 percent of the time. He ought to be in a Democratic primary."

Rubens agreed.

"Since last June, it's been Washington's pick versus the grassroots here," he said.

"We have the most sophisticated Republican primary voter probably of anywhere in the country and I have been to towns in every county two or three times and they want to ask question and they want to be sure you know what you're talking about."

Rubens refused the state GOP as Smith did, saying, "Most of this is emanating from Washington."

Rubens said he has released long lists of supporters from all factions of the state GOP.

"We're putting the party together," he said. "We have everyone from Brad Cook to Gordon Humphrey to (Rep.) Neal Kurk."


(Earlier Granite Status items follow.)


FRIDAY, MARCH 14; LEACH WITH BROWN. As former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown prepared to announce an exploratory committee to look at a possible run for the U.S. Senate in New Hampshire, he announced that former congressional staffer Andy Leach will organize his exploratory efforts as a senior adviser.

Leach is a former two-time executive director of the New Hampshire Republican Part, and has worked for former Gov. John H. Sununu, former U.S. Sen. John E. Sununu, former U.S. Sen. Gordon Humphrey and current U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte.


(Earlier Granite Status reports follow.)

FRIDAY, MARCH 14: BROWN REACTION. Scott Brown's expected announcement of an exploratory committee for a U.S. Senate run for the seat is the talk of the Northeast Republican Leadership Conference today.

Republican National Committeeman Steve Duprey, who would remain neutral in any primary, said the pluses for Brown is that "he's a great grassroots campaigner and a prodigious fundraiser." He has been to a long list of local committees and has contributed heavily to the state GOP and local committees, Duprey pointed out.

Challenges faced by Brown, Duprey said, are charges that he is a carpetbagger and the fact that many conservatives are unhappy with his record on gun control.

But, Duprey said, "from a statewide GOP perspective, he will clearly bring national attention to the race, "and that's good for the ticket up and down the lines."

Duprey said that as a Republican National Committeeman, he is neutral in the race.

Republican media expert Patrick Griffin agreed that with Brown in the race "it will inject some oxygen into the race."

He said he believes the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee "never planned on having to worry about" Shaheen.

"He will have never seen the kind of spending" in a New Hampshire race "that we will see now" with Brown in the race."

U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, asked for her view on the likely Brown entrance into the race, said, "I served with Scott. I have respect for Scott. The fact that he's opening an exploratory committee, I think it's exciting for the race."
(Earlier Granite Status reports follow.)


THURSDAY, MARCH 13: BROWN MOVING TOWARD SENATE RUN. Former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown on Friday will announce he is launching an exploratory committee for a run for the New Hampshire U.S. Senate seat held by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.

A source close to Brown confirmed the announcement is at hand, and said it will be made in Nashua, where the state Republican Party will begin its two-day Northeast Republican Leadership Conference at the Crowne Plaza Hotel.

Brown has been flirting with a Senate run in the Granite State for the better part of a year and recently moved full-time to what had been his vacation home in Rye and registered to vote there.

He has been intensifying his comments about the possibility of a run in recent weeks, as Shaheen's camp and the Democrats have been intensifying their attacks on him.

The news comes on the heels of our exclusive report below that Brown today mailed $29,000 in contributions to various New Hampshire Republican committees and PACs.

(Earlier Granite Status reports follow.)

THURSDAY, MARCH 13: MORE BROWN DONATIONS. On the eve of his appearance at a major conference hosted by the state Republican Party, former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown Thursday disbursed $29,000 in contributions to a group of GOP committees.

We've learned Brown has issued contributions from his The People's Seat PAC of $5,000 to the state party, $5,000 to the state Senate Republican PAC, $5,000 to the House Republican PAC, $1,000 to each of the 10 county committees and $1,000 each to the Manchester, Nashua and Concord Republican committees.

This is in addition to $15,000 Brown donated to the NHGOP in 2013 and 2014.

He has also appeared at several fundraisers as he has been considering whether to run for the U.S. Senate now held by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.

The contributions are timed to coincide with the GOP victory in the Executive Council special election on Tuesday, in which Joe Kenney defeated Democrat Mike Cryans, and with Brown's scheduled appearance Friday afternoon at the Northeast Republican Leadership Conference, hosted by the NHGOP in Nashua.

Several major national Republicans are also scheduled to speak at the Nashua event.

The contributions, which were mailed today, may indicate that Brown is edging closer to becoming a candidate for the Senate seat.

NHGOP chair Jennifer Horn said Brown "has been one of the party's most generous supporters and has done everything he possibly can to help us raise the resources needed as we look toward November." She said Republicans are "extremely grateful."

A source close to Brown said Kenney's "upset victory" in the council race "shows that Granite State Republicans are energized and on the verge of major victories in November. Scott wants to do whatever he can to make sure Republicans have the support they need to take back New Hampshire."

State Democratic Party spokesman Harrell Kirstein reacted to our report on Brown's contributions with this statement:

"Scott Brown is for Scott Brown and the powerful interests that back him, not New Hampshire. So when he gets back from his next trip to Iowa, he'll find himself in a tough Republican Primary against Republicans who are actually from New Hampshire. If he survives that, he'll face an even tougher general election against Jeanne Shaheen, whose common sense leadership makes a difference for New Hampshire and people here know it. New Hampshire isn't going to let Scott Brown and his big oil buddies like the Koch Brothers buy themselves a Senate seat."

(Earlier Granite Status reports follow.)

THURSDAY, MARCH 13: PARTYING AT THE WHITE HOUSE. Two of the state's top Democrats will be headed to the White House Friday for a big St. Patrick's Day party.

Each will be accompanied by family members.

State Democratic Chairman Raymond Buckley and Democratic National Committeewoman (and former state chair) Kathy Sullivan, will be attending the White House event.

Sullivan will be accompanied by her husband, John Rist, while Buckley will bring his youngest sister, Tracie Buckley.

(Earlier Granite Status reports follow.)

TUESDAY, MARCH 11: SHAHEEN LAMENTS CLIMATE CHANGE. New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen participated in the Senate Democrats all-night "talkathon" on climate change Monday night and Tuesday morning, calling it a "great opportunity" to draw attention to an important issue.

She was among more than two dozen Democrats who followed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to the Senate floor to talk about global warming, rising sea levels and the potential for environmental catastrophe and economic hardship if left unchecked.

According to reports from Washington, the Democrats did not promote a specific piece of legislation in the overnight session.

Republicans criticized Shaheen's support for President Barack Obama's "radical agenda" on climate change, but Democrats responded that members of the Republican Party, including congressional candidate Gary Lambert and state Sens. Nancy Stiles, Peter Bragdon and Bob Odell have voted for the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

"This was a great opportunity to draw attention to the ongoing threat climate change poses to our health and our economy," said in a statement after her two appearances on the Senate floor. "I appreciated the opportunity to participate and hope we now take action, starting with passing my energy bill that will reduce pollution, create jobs and save us billions."

The marathon session was also intended to send a message major Democratic donors, like California hedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer, who has pledged to spend $100 million in the midterm elections to support candidates who support climate change legislation. Shaheen attended an event hosted by Steyer last month.

According to a Shaheen spokesman, she did not stay on the Senate floor all night, but spoke on Monday night and again Tuesday morning before it wrapped up.

During her Tuesday morning speech, she said climate change is "contributing to sea level rise and imperils coastal businesses and homes" in New Hampshire, citing "greater storm surges and beach erosion" along the state's 18-mile Seacoast.

"The outdoor recreation community is facing shorter winters and less snow," Shaheen said, "and that results in fewer tourism dollars. And wildlife and public health are becoming increasingly vulnerable to diseases."

She said tourism adds $9.3 billion to the state's economy, but also said climate change could put some of the state's attractions "in jeopardy." She said the state's famed fall foliage is in danger due to the "dulling and browning of unhealthy trees.

The state's maple syrup producers are also experiencing a negative impact on production, Shaheen said.

State Republican Party Chairman Jennifer Horn criticized Shaheen's participation, saying that she "is putting the priorities of President Obama and his radical agenda ahead of the interests of New Hampshire's middle class families.

"By standing with her fellow Washington liberals at the behest of a San Francisco billionaire, Senator Shaheen is showing just how out-of-touch she really is with New Hampshire," Horn charged.

State Democratic Party spokesman Harrell Kirstein responded, "Because they're funded by the Koch brothers oil money, the Republican party is wholly captive to a 30 year old ideology that denies climate changes and promotes a false choice between a healthy environment and jobs. Jeanne Shaheen knows that we can protect the environment and create new, clean energy jobs and she has legislation to do just that."

(Earlier Granite Status reports follow.)

SUNDAY, MARCH 9: GATSAS' PHONE NUMBER COMMANDEERED? Last Wednesday, the day before the state Senate voted on the Medicaid expansion bill, Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas' campaign telephone number was apparently commandeered by someone, or some group, making "robocalls" against the plan.

An angry Gatsas told the Granite Status Friday that "somebody's going to be arrested for this. I'm going to prosecute it to the fullest extent of the law."

He said he reported to the Manchester Police Department "that someone was illegally using my phone number."

We've separately learned the Attorney General's Office is aware of it.

The state identity fraud statute says it's a Class A felony if someone "obtains or records personal identifying information about another person without the express authorization of such person, with the intent to pose as such a person."

Gatsas said he became aware that at least one prerecorded telephone call made on Wednesday in Hooksett Republican state Sen. David Boutin's district had his Ted Gatsas for Mayor telephone number appear in the caller ID.

The caller asked the person who received the call to urge Boutin to oppose Senate Bill 413.

Boutin voted for the plan the following day as it passed the Senate on a vote of 18-5.

It's unclear whether the calls were widespread, but, Gatsas said, "somebody using the number once" is illegal.

We understand the caller in the recording did not identify himself as, or "pose" as, Gatsas. And we understand the caller did identify the organization that paid for the call, as required by the state election law statute governing prerecorded calls.

The problem, then, is apparently not with the state election law, but with the use of Gatsas' number.

Assistant Attorney General Steve LaBonte said Friday his office "received a call about it, and we are aware of it." He had no further comment.

Gatsas said he has used the telephone number for many years, dating back to his days as a state senator. But whoever used the number, he said, misspelled his name on the caller ID as "Gatsus Ted Senator."

Ironically, Gatsas is known to despise robocalls and said he has never used them.

A few groups made robocalls to constituents of pro-Medicaid Expansion Republican senators before the Thursday vote.

Among them was the Republican Liberty Caucus of New Hampshire, whose chairman, Aaron Day, told us that it sponsored some targeted calls "predominantly" in Boutin's district.

But Day said his group was not a "major player" and that he knew nothing of the use of Gatsas' number.

- - - - - - - -

TARGETING SENATORS. Day said the caucus will continue to focus on the pro-Expansion GOP senators.

An announced candidate for state Republican Party chairman (the election is not until January 2015), Day said in an opinion piece he emailed us on Friday that the GOP senators who backed the plan "can expect vigorous and well-supported primary races."

The targeted senators are Senate President Chuck Morse, Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, Boutin, Jeanie Forrester, Jim Rausch, Bob Odell and Nancy Stiles.

"The RLCNH will be announcing our slate of candidates in the coming weeks," Day wrote.

- - - - - - - - -

ELECTION AT HAND. In the first New Hampshire election to reach beyond a specific city, town or state House district since the Democratic near-sweep of November 2012, all political eyes will be on the northern part of the state on Tuesday.

Democratic Grafton County Commissioner Mike Cryans and Republican former state Sen. Joe Kenney will finally square off for the right to replace the legendary Ray Burton as the executive councilor from District 1.

The result will mean that for the first time since 1981, someone other than Burton will sit to the immediate right of the governor at the Executive Council table on the second floor of the State House.

(Burton won for the first time in 1976,. then lost in a primary to Paul Mayette in 1978, before reclaiming the seat in 1980 and keeping it until his death last November.)

The political parties have tried to tie this election to national and state issues, particularly Obamacare and Planned Parenthood funding.

But in the end, this is a regional election, and the region is huge, with myriad local issues.

It will be a low-turnout election, and like all such elections, it will boil down to who gets out the vote.

The Democratic Party has been formidable in that regard; but so has the conservative base of the GOP.

While this election is virtually unpredictable, the fact that it is being held on town meeting day appears to be a plus for Kenney. Generally, the towns tend to lean Republican, and conservatives are well-known for turning out on town meeting day, often to vote on (often against) proposals for local expenditures.

The Democratic base resides in the cities, and those voters will have to be rallied to go to the polls specifically to vote for Cryans.

As usual in pretty much any election, each party has tried to portray the opposing candidate as being far to the left or right and out of touch with moderate mainstream New Hampshire.

- - - - - - - -

DEFAMATION CHARGE. Speaking of robocalls, former New Hampshire House Speaker Bill O'Brien on Friday lost his appeal of a lower court's dismissal of his 2011 lawsuit on the issue against the state Democratic Party.

The former speaker sought damages of potentially more than $1 million after the party reached a settlement with the attorney general, who had charged the party had not used the required disclaimer in prerecorded calls tweaking O'Brien in 2010.

But O'Brien now has another case underway: this one charging defamation by the Democratic Party and its communications director, Harrell Kirstein.

Last December, Kirstein, on behalf of the party, charged in a news statement that O'Brien (and other Republicans) had made "racist, hateful and shameful comments" earlier in the year.

Kirstein was referring to O'Brien's comments at a rally that the Affordable Care Act "is a law as destructive to personal and individual liberty as the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 that allowed slave owners to come to New Hampshire and seize African Americans and use the federal courts to take them back" to slave states.

O'Brien's suit said that he clearly had made a negative comment about the Fugitive Slave Act and had not made a "racist" remark, as Kirstein had alleged.

O'Brien, through attorney Ed Mosca, wrote in the suit that O'Brien "abhors racism. He did not make any racist comment in 2013 or at any other time" and called Kirstein's statement "false and highly offensive."

O'Brien charged that as a result of Kirstein's statement he "suffered damages within the jurisdictional limits of the court."

O'Brien also said in the suit that in response to a letter he sent asking the party to identify his allegedly "racist" comment, the party responded that he was "named in a statement that addressed the refusal of numerous people to apologize for their comments.''

"Collectively, those comments were referred to as racist, hateful and shameful. Each individual comment was not necessarily, racist, hateful and shameful."

Responding to the suit Friday, former Democratic Party Chairman Kathy Sullivan, an attorney, said, "We're confident the court will rule against Mr. O'Brien in this next suit, and it will rule against him in the one after that, and the one after that, and the one after that."

She also questioned "whether attorney Mosca has some personal vendetta against Harrell Kirstein," saying Mosca has made "personal level" criticisms of Kirstein on social media.


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 and followed on Twitter: @jdistaso.


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