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Capital Beat

Capital Beat: Rubens, Testerman, Smith who? Senate focus stays all on Scott Brown

With a Friday night deadline looming for federal campaign fundraising reports, Democratic U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen sent a last-minute pitch to supporters seeking donations for her re-election campaign.

“With Massachusetts’s Scott Brown preparing to get in the race, we won’t be ready unless we raise $64,000 by midnight,” read a Friday morning email.

It was the third fundraising email from Shaheen’s team in two weeks that mentioned Brown, Massachusetts’s former Republican U.S. senator. In that same time span, the New Hampshire Democratic Party created a website called “Scott Brown Not for New Hampshire” and held two conference calls hitting Brown on his views on equal pay and women’s rights.

Not one of those releases or calls mentioned the names Jim Rubens, Karen Testerman or Bob Smith.

Wait, who?

With the way the Democrats (and the media) are treating Brown, it’s hard to remember these three candidates are already in the race.

Why the all Scott Brown, all the time strategy?

“I think it’s important to note that New Hampshire voters have seen (Rubens, Smith and Testerman) first hand and rejected most of them,” Democratic Party spokesman Harrell Kirstein said. “Obviously Scott Brown was a senator in Massachusetts and so folks simply aren’t as familiar with his record.”

A WMUR Granite State Poll from the UNH Survey Center released Friday shows Shaheen leading Brown 47-37 percent, while she leads Rubens 46-32 percent, Testerman 48-29 percent and Smith 47-36 percent. This Shaheen/Brown difference is much wider than a recent Purple Strategies poll, which had them tied.

Kirstein said the Democrats aren’t taking anything for granted when it comes to the other candidates, but UNH political science professor Dante Scala says their actions show they see Brown as the most serious competitor. Even for Republican Party activists, a big Brown “what if?” still hangs in the air in every living room or banquet hall the other three candidates visit.

“In the back of every activist’s mind is Scott Brown. They might talk to Rubens, they might even like Rubens, but they’re thinking to themselves ‘maybe if Scott Brown doesn’t run,’ ” Scala said. “In a way, the race is frozen until Brown makes a decision.”

Rubens, Testerman and Smith, for their parts, say Brown isn’t on their minds as much as he’s on everyone else’s. Rubens, a former state senator who lost the governor’s race in 1998, said he doesn’t believe Brown could win a New Hampshire primary. He thinks the Democrats are focusing on Brown as a way of suppressing Rubens’s own candidacy. (He also said two Democrats have been filming him at most of his events, which means they haven’t dismissed him. When asked about this, Kirstein said the Democratic party doesn’t comment on personnel.)

Likewise, Testerman, a conservative activist who came in third for the 2012 Republican gubernatorial nomination, said she’s focusing more on her own campaign than Brown’s potential one. Press can be important, but so is meeting voters in person, she said.

“New Hampshire’s a grassroots kind of state, and if you don’t meet the people and talk to them, they’re not necessarily going to go buy what’s in the newspaper,” she said.

And Smith, a former U.S. senator, says the attention on Brown doesn’t bother him at all. His biggest frustration is that people still don’t realize he’s in the race. He moved back to New Hampshire full time from Florida in December and is quickly building a team. On March 4, he’ll formally announce his candidacy, but he’s already filed official paperwork.

“I think Scott Brown’s going to have to figure this out pretty soon,” he said. “At some point, you’re going to have to make up your mind and do the things that the rest of us are trying to do here on the ground.”

But for all this talk of face-to-face campaigning, a little more attention might be nice – the same Granite State Poll released Friday shows that 80 percent of respondents didn’t know enough about Testerman to have an opinion of her, 76 percent said the same of Rubens and 55 percent said so for Smith. For Brown, in contrast, only 27 percent didn’t know enough to offer an opinion.

The lack of Democratic attacks on Testerman, Rubens and Smith “keeps them out of the spotlight,” Scala said. “But all three candidates urgently need the publicity. . . even Bob Smith at this point barely passes the ‘who’s that?’ test.”

Hemingway and the NSA?

While espousing a typical Republican platform of rolling back government during his campaign announcement this week, gubernatorial candidate Andrew Hemingway touched on one topic you don’t hear many governors talking about: the National Security Agency.

“We will create a safe harbor in New Hampshire for New Hampshire-based companies from the NSA by limiting the collection of metadata and pushing back on out-of-control spying on corporations and citizens,” he said.

Can a governor really do that?

Well, kind of.

The NSA is, of course, a federal agency, and most state leaders have stayed away from the topic. (A collection of state-of-the-state addresses by Governing magazine shows no governors have referenced it in their speeches this year.) There’s no “opt out” option that keeps states, companies or individuals away from the NSA’s prying eyes, but experts say state lawmakers can take their own actions to ensure better privacy protections for citizens, at least at the state level.

Since Edward Snowden revealed the NSA’s broad collection of domestic and international data last summer, a number of state legislatures have put forth policies focused on personal privacy, such as laws limiting the use of drones and the types of surveillance equipment local law and state law enforcement can use to catch and track criminals, said John Stephenson of the American Legislative Exchange Council. In New Hampshire, for example, the House blocked a bill that would allow police to use license plate scanners to help locate wanted criminals.

Asked to expand on his pledge to create a “safe harbor” after his speech, Hemingway said he has several ideas for state-level actions. The first is to push legislation that would prevent the use of metadata in state court proceedings. (He couldn’t do the same for federal courts.) He said he’d also create a task force of “encryption experts” to search for ways to create “physical safe harbors” for New Hampshire companies.

But Rep. Neal Kurk, a Weare Republican and privacy advocate whose introduced state-level privacy bills, said it’s hard to say how much Hemingway or any other governor could really do when it comes to national security measures handled at the federal level.

“His head and his heart are in the right direction, but a lot of work would have to be done to determine exactly what we could do and how far we could go,” Kurk said.

Keno or casino?

New Hampshire’s casino-averse House of Representatives took a vote in favor of gambling last week by passing a bill that would allow keno in establishments that pour liquor.

But several Democrats who voted for keno say it’s not a vote that says much about the future of casinos.

“I don’t think it’s a bellwether of how the House is leaning toward (a) casino,” said Majority Leader Steve Shurtleff, a Penacook Democrat. “I think that is something that stands on its own.”

Shurtleff is one of a handful of local Democrats who voted against a Senate bill to authorize one casino last year but voted in favor of keno this week. The keno bill, amended to allow communities to keep keno out of their towns, passed 202-141. Both Shurtleff and Rep. Gary Richardson, a Hopkinton Democrat, said they voted for keno to support the House Ways and Means Committee, which recommended it. They also said allowing keno, an electronic lottery game, into bars and restaurants is far different than opening a casino.

The bill’s fate in the Senate looks grimmer. Richardson said most representatives assume the Senate will kill keno.

To Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, a Manchester Democrat who’s long supported opening a casino and has introduced a bill to open two, keno is an expansion of gambling that has none of the benefits a casino would bring, namely jobs and money. But D’Allesandro said the House’s choice to allow keno and legalize marijuana should mean they’re more likely to vote for a casino.

“If we’re going to do something, we ought to do something that makes sense for our population in that in produces economic recovery and jobs, that’s what we need,” he said.

“Let’s hope (the House is) moving towards a broader appreciation of economic recovery.”

What to watch

∎ Gov. Maggie Hassan will deliver her State of the State address to a joint session of the Legislature on Wednesday at 10 a.m. Pay attention to how hard she pushes Medicaid expansion and gambling and whether she reinforces her opposition to legalizing marijuana.

∎ The House Education Committee will hold a hearing on a bill to terminate state involvement in the Common Core state standards on Thursday at 11:30 a.m. Statewide the bill has broad support from educators and officials but faces opposition from groups like Cornerstone Action and some school board members in various cities. How many new faces show up to testify for or against the standards could indicate if backlash to the education standards is growing.

∎ The gambling bill to establish one casino that’s backed by the Gaming Regulatory Oversight Authority (and Hassan) will come before the House Ways and Means Committee at 9 a.m. Thursday. The Senate plans on tabling D’Allesandro’s two-casino bill while it waits to see the House’s response to this bill.

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3390 or kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @kronayne.)

Lets hope that the republican leadership in NH does not do what the Republican National Committee does by shorting the candidates time running against one another so the people can make their choice, not the NH Republican Committee.

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