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Kuster confident facing off against five Republican challengers

  • Candidates for New Hampshire’s second Congressional District include incumbent Democrat Annie Kuster and Republicans Dr. Stewart Levenson of Hopkinton, former state representative Lynne Blankenbeker of Concord, and State Rep. Steve Negron of Nashua, businessman Brain Belanger of New Boston and Bob Burns of Bedford.

  • Candidates for New Hampshire’s second Congressional District include incumbent Democrat Annie Kuster and Republicans Dr. Stewart Levenson of Hopkinton, former state representative Lynne Blankenbeker of Concord, and State Rep. Steve Negron of Nashua, businessman Brain Belanger of New Boston and Bob Burns of Bedford.



For the Monitor
Tuesday, June 12, 2018

A confident congresswoman Annie Kuster filed for re-election Tuesday.

The three-term Democrat in New Hampshire’s 2nd Congressional District predicted Democrats will win back the U.S. House.

“We’re going to have a better future under a Democratic Congress and I’m going to be a part of that,” she said Tuesday.

But Kuster is grappling with recent poll numbers that were anything but impressive, numbers that are giving her Republican challengers hope that the incumbent is beatable in November’s midterm elections.

Kuster arrived at the New Hampshire Secretary of State’s office by walking through a throng of cheering supporters lined up along the second-floor corridor in the State House.

Speaking the with Monitor moments after filing her paperwork, the congresswoman said her polling numbers were nothing to fear.

“Our numbers are great in our polling, so I’m not worried about it at all,” she said. “And I’m definitely not worried about it until after the (GOP) primary.”

In April, the Hopkinton Democrat had a 27 percent-33 percent favorable/unfavorable rating in a University of New Hampshire Survey Center poll released, with a third of respondents saying they didn’t know enough about Kuster to form an opinion.

Her favorable rating was slightly above water (45 percent to 42 percent favorable/unfavorable) in a Saint Anselm College Survey Center poll conducted in late April, with nearly a quarter not knowing enough about her to give an answer. In a separate question, 44 percent said they approved of the job she was doing, with a third saying they disapprove.

But only 32 percent questioned in the Saint Anselm poll said Kuster deserved a direct path to re-election, with 45 percent saying a new person should be given a chance.

At a GOP forum in Northwood on Monday night, Kuster’s Republican challengers were highlighting those numbers.

State Rep. Steve Negron of Nashua, a businessman and Air Force veteran, zeroed in on the quarter of those questioned in the Saint Anselm poll that couldn’t form an opinion of the three-term incumbent.

“Twenty-four percent had never even heard of her. And a representative is just that. It’s about representing. It’s about coming back. It’s about constituent service. It’s about listening,” Negron said.

Former state representative Lynne Blankenbeker of Concord, who just completed three decades of active-duty service in the Air Force and Navy, argued that the polls suggest that Kuster’s “not doing so great.”

“I think we can really pull this (off) as far getting Kuster out,” Blankenbeker said.

Kuster also came under attack at the forum over her efforts as the ranking Democrat on the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations in dealing with ongoing crisis at the VA.

New Hampshire has the fifth-highest number of veterans per capita in the country, yet it’s the only state in the contiguous U.S. without a full-service VA medical facility.

Last year, several whistleblowers came forward with accounts of substandard care at the Manchester VA medical center.

One of those whistleblowers was Dr. Stewart Levenson, who was a top VA official in New England. He’s now one of the five Republicans running to challenge Kuster.

“I decided I would hold her accountable the way I held VA leadership accountable,” Levenson said. “You all have been hearing about the secretary of the VA being removed, local leadership being removed. Well, the group I co-founded was intimately involved in achieving those things. And the next step is we have to get rid of Ann Kuster.”

But Kuster argued that improvements are underway.

“I think what some people misunderstand is that a lot of the work we do is behind the scenes. So I’ve been meeting even within the last week, several meetings with the VA down in Washington at the very top levels,” she said. “Twice with the acting secretary, Mr. O’Rourke. And a couple of times with his team. And with Al Montoya in Manchester.”

Kuster added that her efforts have helped “create excellent quality of care for veterans all across New Hampshire.”

Kuster also touted her bipartisan efforts dealing with the state’s acute opioid epidemic. The co-founder and co-chair of the bipartisan Heroin Task Force in the House highlighted that “we’re about to pass a dozen bills in Congress this week, which is a really big deal.”

Kuster told the Monitor that she won’t be in campaign mode until after the state’s early September primary, when she’ll learn which Republican will challenge her in November.

“I’ve got my day job down in Washington. I fly down to Washington today,” she explained. “We are in session four weeks in June and four weeks in July.”

Kuster said she’ll “hit the ground running” after the primary. And she added that at the “end of September and October I’ll be home for the campaign and looking forward to winning a fourth term.”

Helping her in that mission will be a political climate both nationally and in New Hampshire that appears to favor the Democrats, and her extremely large campaign cash gives her an advantage over her GOP challengers.

As of April 1, Kuster had raised some $2.1 million since the start of the 2018 election cycle. And her campaign also reported having $2.6 million cash on hand.