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Bass, Kuster take case straight to 2nd District voters

  • Peterborough Republican Charlie Bass, seeking re-election in the race for the 2nd Congressional District, speaks with supporters at a spaghetti dinner at the VFW Post 4368 in Milford on Saturday, November 3, 2012. Markus Rantala, 8, left, watches Congressman Bass as he wipes away pasta sauce after finishing his plate.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff)

    Peterborough Republican Charlie Bass, seeking re-election in the race for the 2nd Congressional District, speaks with supporters at a spaghetti dinner at the VFW Post 4368 in Milford on Saturday, November 3, 2012. Markus Rantala, 8, left, watches Congressman Bass as he wipes away pasta sauce after finishing his plate.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Hopkinton Democrat Annie Kuster, who is challenging Peterborough Republican Charlie Bass for the 2nd Congressional District, shakes hands while leaving a house party held for her in Nashua on Saturday, November 3, 2012. Former governor of Vermont and presidential candidate, Howard Dean, joined Kuster during her campaign stop.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff)

    Hopkinton Democrat Annie Kuster, who is challenging Peterborough Republican Charlie Bass for the 2nd Congressional District, shakes hands while leaving a house party held for her in Nashua on Saturday, November 3, 2012. Former governor of Vermont and presidential candidate, Howard Dean, joined Kuster during her campaign stop.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Hopkinton Democrat Annie Kuster, who is challenging Peterborough Republican Charlie Bass for the 2nd Congressional District, shakes hands while leaving a house party held for her in Nashua on Saturday, November 3, 2012. Former governor of Vermont and presidential candidate, Howard Dean, joined Kuster during her campaign stop.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff)

    Hopkinton Democrat Annie Kuster, who is challenging Peterborough Republican Charlie Bass for the 2nd Congressional District, shakes hands while leaving a house party held for her in Nashua on Saturday, November 3, 2012. Former governor of Vermont and presidential candidate, Howard Dean, joined Kuster during her campaign stop.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Peterborough Republican Charlie Bass, seeking re-election in the race for the 2nd Congressional District, speaks with supporters at a spaghetti dinner at the VFW Post 4368 in Milford on Saturday, November 3, 2012. Markus Rantala, 8, left, watches Congressman Bass as he wipes away pasta sauce after finishing his plate.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff)
  • Hopkinton Democrat Annie Kuster, who is challenging Peterborough Republican Charlie Bass for the 2nd Congressional District, shakes hands while leaving a house party held for her in Nashua on Saturday, November 3, 2012. Former governor of Vermont and presidential candidate, Howard Dean, joined Kuster during her campaign stop.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff)
  • Hopkinton Democrat Annie Kuster, who is challenging Peterborough Republican Charlie Bass for the 2nd Congressional District, shakes hands while leaving a house party held for her in Nashua on Saturday, November 3, 2012. Former governor of Vermont and presidential candidate, Howard Dean, joined Kuster during her campaign stop.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff)

More than $5.5 million has been spent on TV and radio ads in the 2nd Congressional District race between Annie Kuster and U.S. Rep. Charlie Bass, but this weekend was all about old-school retail politics.

Bass, a Peterborough Republican, narrowly beat Kuster, a Hopkinton Democrat, by about 3,500 votes two years ago.

Kuster has said openly that she would target Republican strongholds in the southern part of the state that she lost by large margins two years ago, and that’s where both candidates concentrated their energy yesterday.

High-profile progressive activists came to the home of Sonya and Paul Hackel in a partially gated community in Nashua to rally for Kuster.

Howard Dean, former presidential candidate and governor of Vermont, told about 75 people that the Republican-dominated New Hampshire State House was “the most embarrassing legislature in the United States.”

He said it would be “really, really cool” if New Hampshire had an all-female Congressional delegation and also brought “sensible” leadership back to Concord.

“This is going to be the year of the woman in New Hampshire,” Dean said.

Stephanie Schriok, president of EMILY’s List – a group that raises money for pro-choice female candidates – said Kuster would “lead us out of this crazy time into a future where we are looking out for each other.”

“I think (Republicans) want us back in the kitchen,” Schriok said. Her organization has raised about $55,000 for Kuster this cycle, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks the influence of money in politics.

In her remarks, Kuster struck an “all politics is local” theme, giving shout-outs to supporters in the room who were running for state office. Supporting those candidates, Kuster said, would help Maggie Hassan, should she win the governor’s race against Republican Ovide Lamontagne.

“The sheer IQ of it’s going to go up 100 points,” Kuster said of the Legislature to Bette Lasky, a Nashua Democrat running for a third term in the New Hampshire Senate.

“I’m afraid it wouldn’t be hard,” Lasky replied.

Kuster told the crowd she spent the early part of the day canvassing in barber shops and telling Spanish speakers to vote Democrat down the ticket.

She also reminded everyone they don’t need a photo ID to vote – they can sign an affidavit instead. She also encouraged them to keep the lines at the polls moving on Election Day and not to protest the new law by refusing to show an ID.

Wearing a white jacket, Kuster told them to vote “forward, not Bass” and reminded them that her mother ran for the very seat against him and lost. Her race is about the future, she said, but it also “has an element of vindication in the past.”

She said she knows what it’s like to be in the “sandwich generation,” caring for elderly parents and raising children at the same time. She’d protect Medicare, she said, and advocate for working mothers and all New Hampshire residents.

In an interview after the event, Sonya Hackel, a 79-year-old retiree, said she intended to vote for Kuster for the second time in two years. Hackel said Mitt Romney is a “totally empty vessel” and that Democrats need to be elected at both the federal and state level.

“It can’t just be a bunch of people wearing their guns and saying ‘no’ to everything,” Hackel said.

A few hours later in a VFW hall in Milford, Bass was engaged in what he says has become a tradition on the trail: spaghetti.

For years now, he said his campaign has hosted spaghetti suppers in the final days before the election in communities including Littleton, Nashua and Concord.

For about an hour last night, as about 75 people ate, Bass, wearing khakis and shirtsleeves, spoke in small groups on topics including the precarious state of the federal flood insurance program and juvenile diabetes.

After most had eaten – they ran out of salad – Bass delivered brief remarks to the group.

“This is a wonderful time in a campaign. The signs are battered. My pants are spotted. My shoes are bare,” he said. But, he continued, “My voice is still strong. Our spirits are up, and in 54 hours . . . the polls will open in Dixville.”

He urged them not to talk to each other but to Democrats and independents to persuade them to vote Bass. It’s not about Democrat or Republican, he said, liberal or conservative.

“It’s about caring about this country,” Bass said. “I’m not here to be in Congress. I’m here to solve problems.”

The most important thing, he said, is to get the size of government down and lower taxes, grow the economy and make jobs.

He said Democrats want people to become used to a “new normal” of high unemployment and economic malaise.

“The unemployment rate went up 1/10 of 1 percent, and only in the eyes of a Democrat can that be characterized as ‘not a bad thing,’ ” Bass said, referencing a comment Kuster made Friday morning on the NHPR show The Exchange.

The 7.9 percent unemployment rate – a slight uptick from last month’s 7.8 percent – meant that more people were trying to get jobs, which Kuster said was a sign the economy was going in the right direction.

Bass disagreed.

“They’ll do anything to make you think another four years of what we’ve had for the last four years is going to be better,” Bass said. “We know better than that.”

Gail Cromwell, a 71-year-old retired economist who lives in Temple, said she’d vote for Bass. She liked that he was endorsed by Erskine Bowles, a budget hawk who also served as chief of staff to former president Bill Clinton.

Bass “can work on both sides of the aisle,” said Cromwell, who said she voted for Bass in 2010, too.

Bill McNary, a 60-year-old businessman who lives in Amherst, said he’d vote for Bass a second time because Bass is good with constituent services and believes in limited government.

“I appreciate that he’s basically a Republican centrist,” McNary said. “He’s pragmatic.”

Polling often puts the race, which has attracted national attention, within the margin of error.

(Molly A.K. Connors can be reached at 369-3319 or mconnors@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @MAKConnors )

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