IN RECENT weeks, the State Senate District 9 race has moved up the GOP’s list of fall takeover targets.

Late last week, State Sen. Jeanne Dietsch’s reelection campaign tried mightily to play damage control for the second time in less than a month.

Kevin Landrigan Dome

The latest move came after a 90-minute “listening session” the first-term senator had with concerned parents to address earlier remarks she made about school choice at a State Senate remote public hearing. “This idea of parental choice, that’s great if the parent is well-educated. There are some families that’s perfect for. But to make it available to everyone? No. I think you’re asking for a huge amount of trouble,” Dietsch said on June 9.

Then last week, she linked home schooling to child neglect.

“I am not worried about your children,” she said to the parents on last week’s call. “I’m worried about the other children. As legislators, we must worry about all children. I think one reason the commissioner (Frank Edelblut) might want a statewide management system is that we have a very tiny percentage of home schoolers who are parents who are using that system to neglect children.

“It’s a very small percentage. It’s parents who don’t want other people knowing what’s going on at their homes — the drugs, whatever is happening there. It’s a minuscule percentage, but it exists. It’s a reality.”

In a statement, Brandon Latham, Dietsch’s campaign manager, said her latest comments were not inappropriate.

“A small portion of the conversation has been taken out of context in order to mischaracterize her intent. She said that her priority as a legislator is to ensure the type of care these families give is guaranteed for every single child, regardless of location or background,” Latham said in the statement.

“Sen. Dietsch did not make blanket accusations regarding abuse or neglect, nor did she insinuate that home schoolers are more susceptible to abuse than public school students. Her words were taken out of context to hurt her politically, which ultimately helps no one.

“That said, it is our duty to make sure there are no more invisible children. Sen. Dietsch acknowledges that severe cases may represent only a small percentage of students but believes that even one neglected child is too many, whether that student is at home or in public schools.”

The campaign also announced ex-Democratic nominee for governor Mark Fernald and Bruce Fox of Dublin were endorsing Dietsch’s bid for a second term.

Gov. Chris Sununu lowered the boom on Dietsch’s latest comments.

“For parents who choose a home schooling pathway, I think it’s a great pathway,” Sununu said. “That’s an outrageous statement, and that’s an outrageous claim.”

“Commissioner Edelblut has done a tremendous job with public schools, private schools, charter schools — he’s just knocked it out of the park in so many ways.”

Democrats hold a 14-10 edge in the Senate.

With all 10 Republicans running for reelection, GOP needs to hold them and flip three others to regain control. Before this dust-up, the District 9 seat already held some promise for Republicans.

Andy Sanborn of Bedford had firm control of it until he ran and lost a GOP primary bid for the 1st Congressional District seat in 2018.

State GOP leaders think they have found an up-and-comer in Denise Ricciardi, a longtime Bedford resident coming off a big win for a seat on the Bedford Town Council, where she now serves as vice chairman.

Ricciardi served on the town’s conservation commission for many years and fought against placing cell towers in residential backyards in her community.

Piling on Volinsky

During an otherwise-quiet political season, Democratic gubernatorial primary candidate Andru Volinsky got an unwelcome boost in name recognition last week. Volinsky’s opposition as a member of the Executive Council to two black political nominees offered by Gov. Chris Sununu attracted national attention, while a local Black Lives Matter representative said Volinsky’s conclusion that both men were “unqualified” was racist.

By day’s end Wednesday, Volinsky had issued an apology for how he had passed judgment on the two candidates, Eddie Edwards and Ryan Terrell.

State and national Republican groups piled on, demanding other prominent Democrats condemn Volinsky.

The New Hampshire Republican State Committee tried to leverage the controversy to raise money to “flip the council” from Democratic to GOP control in this November’s elections.

During a Concord radio talk show Thursday morning, State Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, said the comment was inexcusable and he threw a bouquet at Volinsky’s primary opponent, Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes of Concord.

“I hope that Dem Primary voters look at character when they go to the polls in September because I just don’t think that Mr. Volinsky has it,” Bradley told New Hampshire Now with Chris Ryan.

“I don’t agree with Dan Feltes on a lot of things, but he’s honest and he’s friendly.”

The twist to the situation is that in most states, liberal Democrats are trying to put conservative Republicans on the defensive about race, not the other way around.

Meanwhile, some GOP operatives privately question whether pounding on Volinsky is in their best interest.

They view Feltes as potentially the tougher opponent for Sununu this fall. Feltes already has raised twice as much money as Volinsky and piled up more endorsements from prominent Democrats.

Further, Volinsky’s past support for an income tax and his “pledge” in this campaign to oppose state policies that raise local property taxes would make him an easier target for the incumbent.

Volinsky’s backers say he holds the most appeal for the progressive base of the party, which clearly is energized to turn out to organize and vote in 2020.

Sununu disdains process

During a remote session with the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce last Thursday, Sununu said he understands COVID-19 has made legislating difficult, but he doesn’t like the process that will bring the 2020 session to a close.

As we’ve reported, Democratic leaders in the Senate aggressively took the reins to push through their agenda in the final weeks of the 2020 session, attaching dozens of proposals to more than two dozen bills.

Sununu said the public hasn’t had sufficient opportunity to evaluate those measures.

“It is really not a good way to do it at all. We have tried to encourage them to put germane items with germane items. It is going to make it very challenging to move forward with a lot of this stuff,” Sununu said.

The governor said there’s no urgency to act on many of these plans. “We should just wait until the next session. There is nothing wrong with that,” Sununu said. “I am probably going to err on the side of a veto. Let the public have a say. Let the issue come to light.”

Senate Democratic leaders point out all these measures attached to bills had their own public hearings and were germane to the bill’s original topics.

They also said this was the only way to get anything done after House Republicans blocked that chamber from acting on its pending legislation.

Dems set filing record

Democratic Party Chairman Raymond Buckley said his party filed for more state and county offices than Republicans for the “first time in Granite State history.”

Democrats have 507 candidates running in the 482 races, while Republicans are competing in 459 races, Buckley said.

That doesn’t mean Democrats have more candidates. Actually, they don’t. It’s all about the marketing.

For example, state GOP officials report 440 candidates running for seats in the House. Democrats have 400 candidates running in 380 of the 400 districts.

This cycle continues the long tradition of many more Republican primaries than Democratic ones, especially in the New Hampshire House.

Buckley said the slate of House hopefuls includes “more than 200 women, over 125 first-time candidates, over 70 young Democrats, and many LGBTQ+ candidates and candidates of color.”

One of the most impressive recruitment efforts was in Rockingham County, which the GOP has always dominated on Election Day.

Rockingham County Democratic Chairman Larry Drake reported a record 114 Democrats were running for state and county seats, including 92 for the House.

“The historic number of Democrats running in Rockingham County shows how much enthusiasm there is across the electorate for the solutions Democrats have proposed from making health care more affordable, to protecting the environment, to improving our schools,” Drake said in a statement. “That there will be a Democrat running for every position on the ballot in Rockingham County in November is a huge achievement for every Rockingham County Democrat.”

COVID-19 election tweaks

The Senate on Monday is expected to approve an amended bill (HB 1266) that would permit someone to make a single application for an absentee ballot for both the primary and general elections.

It also would make “concern with COVID-19” a new box that potential voters could check off as a reason they do not wish to go to the polls on election day.

This new box would be for those who don’t feel comfortable using COVID-19 as the reason to check “disability” and get that absentee ballot.

The Select Committee on 2020 Emergency Election Support made those requests.

Secretary of State Bill Gardner told the Senate panel that other recommendations the select committee made for this election, such as a dropoff box for ballots, could be done administratively and did not need a law change.

“We’re glad that the HB 1266’s second amendment has passed, and that a few of the Select Committee on 2020 Emergency Election Support recommendations were codified,” said Olivia Zink, executive director of Open Democracy Action. “But now Secretary of State Gardner needs to please tell the state how and when the remaining recommendations will be implemented, to minimize the risk of a debacle as happened in Georgia and Wisconsin, and protect our voters and poll workers.”

Business fuels Sununu bid

Sununu frequently has said COVID-19 has dominated his work, which hasn’t allowed him any time to raise money. His latest campaign finance report underlines that fact.

Over the past six months, Sununu raised $345,921. About 60% of that came with little effort — through businesses, political action committees and limited liability companies. Nearly 40% came from outside the state. The average contribution to the governor’s bid for a third term in this latest report was $1,234.

Ex-NH politico in key role

A seasoned political operative with plenty of New Hampshire experience is moving into a key role as the election season heats up. Julie McClain Downey has signed on as interim senior communications director for the national Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

“For millions of women, everything is on the line this November — so we won’t be letting up for a second,” she tweeted about the news.

Downey worked as a senior adviser on Cory Booker’s presidential campaign. Before that she served in a communications role for Emily’s List, the largest abortion rights political action committee in the country.

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