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Dan Tuohy's Granite Status: Both parties optimistic on chances in state races

New Hampshire Union Leader

June 22. 2016 11:31PM

Both parties are claiming candidate advantages for the state Legislature, regardless of the pell-mell pace of the White House race.

Democrats are eager to upset Republican majorities in the 400-member House and 24-member Senate. The GOP response: dream on.

A spokesman for the New Hampshire Democratic Party’s legislative caucus, following the close of the filing period last week, cited a 25-seat advantage over Republicans due to the GOP not fielding candidates in certain House districts. In a social media post, Zach McNamara refers to a future Democratic Speaker Steve Shurtleff.

But those deficits “are in seats that are not in play,” said Ross Berry, executive director of the Republican State Committee. “We filled every seat that we targeted to fill. It’s going to be a landslide year for Republicans.”

Putting aside the buzz about the top of the ticket being a boon or bust, political forces are fighting it out in the margins: the small towns and cities, and identifiable swing districts.

After political parties submitted candidates for remaining vacancies on the ballot, Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley celebrated his party putting up 28 candidates for the 24 Senate districts. The GOP left two Democratic incumbents, Dan Feltes of Concord and David Watters of Dover, unopposed. Republicans have 35 candidates running for Senate districts. The GOP has eight incumbents seeking re-election, including Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem. Democrats also have eight incumbents running.

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TWO DEMOCRATIC candidates for governor disclosed their fundraising totals Wednesday ahead of deadlines to do so. Colin Van Ostern, an executive councilor from Concord, reports raising $850,000, and having approximately $500,000 cash on hand. His campaign said that is a record for a non-incumbent Democrat in the race at this point. Van Ostern, who is not self-funding, transferred about $60,000 from his former Executive Council re-election committee. Mark Connolly, a former deputy secretary of state and securities regulations director from New Castle, raised $411,799.64, and having $243,100 cash on hand. Connolly contributed $100,000 to his own campaign. Campaign Manager Colin Pio, in a statement on Connolly's funding, said, "Mark has been working every day since announcing his campaign to activate a network from 35 plus years of work across business, government and non-profit sectors in New Hampshire. He feels so strongly about what he brings to his campaign that he's chosen to make a sizable contribution to his own campaign."

The other major Democrat in the race, former Portsmouth Mayor Steve Marchand, plans to file his finance report by the August deadline. Marchand is the only one in the race to accept a voluntary spending cap. The governor’s race is an open seat in 2016, with Democrat Maggie Hassan running for U.S. Senate. Five Republicans seek the corner office: Frank Edelblut of Wilton, Jeanie Forrester of Meredith, Ted Gatsas of Manchester, Jonathan Lavoie of Hollis, and Chris Sununu of Newfields. In political committee reports filed with Secretary of State Bill Gardner, the Committee to Elect House Democrats raised $247,00 and reported over $100,000 cash on hand. The Senate Democratic Caucus reports raising $373,000 and having $161,000 cash on hand. The Senate GOP Majority PAC reports it has a record $202,674.78 cash on hand, having raised $222,504.54.

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PRESUMPTIVE GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump is due to return to New Hampshire on Wednesday, June 29, for a fundraiser at the Rye home of Bill Binnie, a 2010 GOP candidate for U.S. Senate who is president of Carlisle Capital Corp. and owner of WBIN-TV. The event had been scheduled for June 13, but was postponed due to the Orlando shooting.

Nothing was concrete as of Wednesday, but New Hampshire co-chairman Steve Stepanek said there could be a rally for Trump in New Hampshire.

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FORMER STATE GOP Chair Jayne Millerick joins Merrimack County Sheriff Scott Hilliard and former Executive Councilor and Manchester Mayor Ray Wieczorek as co-chairs of Jim Adams’ campaign for Executive Council District 4. His endorsements include Manchester Alderman Nick Pappas, Rep. Tammy Simmons, R-Manchester, and state Sens. John Reagan, R-Deerfield, Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry, and David Boutin, R-Hooksett. Adams is in a primary with Manchester Adlerman-at-large Joseph Kelly Levasseur. The winner takes on Democratic incumbent Chris Pappas.

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THE RACE for state Senate District 24 continues to percolate, with four Republicans seeking to follow in the steps of Sen. Nancy Stiles, R-Hampton, who’s not running for re-election. Dan Innis, who ran for Congress in 2014, announced 16 endorsements earlier this week. They include two GOP power couples: Paul and Anna Grace Holloway of Rye, and Doug and Stella Scamman of Stratham. On Wednesday, he named another 15 supporters, most out of the district, including former Senate Majority Leader Bob Clegg, R-Hudson, Dan and Renee Plummer of Portsmouth, and Andy Lietz of Rye, a former chairman of the University System of New Hampshire.

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GOP GUBERNATORIAL hopeful and state Rep. Frank Edelblut is hailing his “making the grade” in the Americans for Prosperity-NH legislative scorecard, which gave him an “A.” The scorecard is based on roll calls on 13 House bills and 12 Senate bills and reflects what AFP says are votes for or against reducing the size of government, limiting over-regulation, and making New Hampshire more competitive.

Edelblut, one of four seeking the GOP nomination, said the scorecard shows he’s a strong fiscal conservative. “Businesses need to know that I’ve got their back,” he said in a phone interview.

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IN CASE YOU missed it, AFP-NH had a nice word for U.S. Senate Democratic hopeful Gov. Maggie Hassan for signing Senate Bill 342 into law. Well, sort of. The bill in question ends the taxation on selling a share of a business. AFP-NH State Director Greg Moore gave the two-term governor some faint praise and needling. He pointed out that Hassan vetoed nearly an identical piece of legislation. He claimed Hassan vetoed the earlier bill because it was known as the “Craig Benson Bill,” after the former Republican governor and businessman. “We’re thankful she’s come to her senses and is now supporting tax relief that makes our economy stronger,” Moore said.

In an election year, the state Democratic Party did not have any praise, faint or other, for U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-NH, despite her voting to advance measures by Sen. Dianne Fienstein, D-Calif. and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, to prevent terrorist suspects on the No Fly List and selectee list from buying guns. Hassan campaign manager Marc Goldberg said Ayotte was “trying to have it both ways” on gun safety measures, based in part on her vote last year against a similar Feinstein amendment.

Ayotte spokeswoman Liz Johnson countered by calling on Hassan to “stop playing politics” and to support Ayotte’s bipartisan group of senators for a compromise bill to block suspected terrorists from buying guns, while protecting due process rights of Americans.

UPDATE: Hassan spokesman Aaron Jacobs said Hassan would support that compromise legislation as "the absolute least that the Senate should be doing," adding that it does not go far enough to ensure suspected terrorists cannot buy guns. "Someone who is too dangerous to get on a plane would still be able to buy a gun, just by going online or to a gun show," Jacobs said in a statement. "And there are still hundreds of thousands of suspected terrorists that would not be addressed by this measure at all." The Hassan campaign continue to knock Ayotte for opposing background checks for gun purchases at shows and online.

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U.S. REP. Ann McLane Kuster, D-NH, stopped by the House Democrats' sit-in protest to show her support for Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., who demanded a vote on bills for more extensive background checks and block terrorists from buying guns. She later sat-in with her colleagues from her party, in a protest that House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., called a "publicity stunt." Kuster spokeswoman Rosie Hilmer, in a statement, said, "A strong believer in upholding New Hampshire's historic tradition of gun ownership, Kuster nonetheless believes we can maintain the protections of the 2nd Amendment while taking steps to keep our communities safe. She believes the House should hold a vote on measures she supports, such as banning individuals on the terrorist watch list from purchasing firearms, and expanding background check protocols to keep guns out of the hands of individuals with evil intent, like the shooter in Orlando who destroyed so many innocent lives."

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NEW POLITICAL committees registering with the Secretary of State’s office this month include “New Hampshire First,” Democracy for America-NH, and NH Job Creation Alliance.

New Hampshire First is led by Gary Levy, owner of State Street Discount in Portsmouth. The PAC supports candidates who stand for “good business practices” and issues.

Democracy for America backs progressive candidates and issues. NH Job Creation Alliance is a new filing but a familiar committee. Led by John P. Stabile, a businessman and former state GOP chairman, the alliance supports public policy, officials and candidates dedicated to free enterprise, and “without regard to political party.”

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John Bisognano was named the state Democrats’ coordinated campaign director. He was a field organizer for President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, and recently served as White House associate director of public engagement for progressive, labor, and national security issues, according to Buckley, the state party chair.

• State Rep. Gary Azarian, R-Salem, has not endorsed Jim Rubens for U.S. Senate. Rubens, a former state senator from Hanover, said earlier this week that 40 state representatives had endorsed him. Azarian’s name was on it. He has yet to back a candidate in the race.

• The Coalition of NH Taxpayers will hear from Project Veritas activist James O’Keefe at its annual picnic July 9 at Sweeney American Legion Post 2 in Manchester.

Dan Tuohy covers politics and government for the Union Leader and Sunday News. Email news and information to dtuohy@unionleader.com. Follow on Twitter: @tuohy.

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