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N.H. Democrats could see wide open primary in race to replace Larsen

Several Democrats say they’re seriously considering running for the seat state Sen. Sylvia Larsen is vacating, creating a potentially crowded field in Concord’s first open Senate race in 20 years.

Larsen announced Wednesday she’s not seeking re-election, a move that surprised many. Larsen vetted Concord School Board member Kass Ardinger as a potential successor before announcing her retirement and Ardinger officially jumped in the race Wednesday evening. But since the news broke, a handful of other Democrats have said they’ve gotten calls from activists and party members asking them to run. Concord attorney Andru Volinsky, Planned Parenthood senior policy adviser Jennifer Frizzell, Concord City Councilor Amanda Grady Sexton, Concord state Rep. Kathi Rogers and former U.S. representative Paul Hodes all confirmed to the Monitor that they are considering running or have received calls about running. Family and professional obligations are some of the things they said they’ll need to consider.

The district, which includes Concord, Henniker, Hopkinton and Warner, is solidly Democratic, likely making the primary more competitive than the general election. On the Republican side, Hopkinton Selectman Jim O’Brien said he is thinking about running. The filing period for statewide office closes June 13. Larsen has held a solid grip on the seat for two decades, and ambitious local Democrats realize it may well be many more years before the seat opens up again.

“I have myself received several calls of encouragement from either elected officials or nonprofit leaders that I have had the chance to work with or work for,” Frizzell said yesterday. “That has caused me to think seriously about how rare an opportunity like this comes up and how important this particular time is in the New Hampshire landscape in setting a climate for the future of our state.”

Some Democrats are privately expressing frustration with what looks like a coronation of Ardinger. A letter announcing Ardinger’s candidacy, including a fundraiser envelope, was sent out yesterday. Larsen, for her part, said she wanted to be responsible and make sure there was a qualified candidate ready to run for the seat if and when she stepped down. Larsen said she spoke with several Concord state representatives who told her they were not interested in pursuing the seat and has been surprised by some of the names that are now emerging as potential candidates. Through years of recruiting candidates, Larsen said she knows the time commitment and responsibility of the job keep many qualified people from running.

“I thought it was helpful to line up a very talented and capable person,” Larsen said. The seat is “not mine to give away, it’s the voters.’ ”

Larsen has not officially endorsed Ardinger. Ardinger, a school board member for 7½ years, said she has the time and energy to serve in the Senate and sees it as a natural next step after years of holding citywide office.

“Sylvia’s a great inspiration for public service. She’s spent her career in public service, and that’s sort of been my path as an adult with my service on the school board,” Ardinger said. “I think this is an outgrowth of that interest in just building community consensus around really challenging issues.”

Volinsky said he’s “very interested” in running for the open seat. As an attorney, he’s been involved in public policy issues for more than 30 years. He served as lead counsel against the state in the Claremont education funding lawsuits and is the attorney for the New Hampshire Retirement Security Coalition, now involved in litigation with the state. He was also involved in the recent state lawsuit against the Local Government Center.

Frizzell served as Senate policy director when Larsen was Senate president from 2006 to 2010 and is now in her second stint working with Planned Parenthood. She was also a top policy adviser in one of former governor John Lynch’s re-election campaigns.

Grady Sexton, who is director of public policy for the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, said she’s received several phone calls about running for the seat but has not made a decision. Hodes, who served in Congress from 2007 to 2011 before losing a bid for U.S. Senate to Kelly Ayotte in 2010, has also received calls about running. He said he’s flattered by the calls and that it is an “interesting thought.” Rogers, a state representative and former Concord city councilor, also said she’s been getting calls asking her to run. She, too, has not made a decision.

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @kronayne.)

I would love to see Gary Richardson run for that seat.

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