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Capital Beat

Capital Beat: Kuster and Shea-Porter stick together in the U.S. House, except when they don’t

New Hampshire voters sent two Democrats to the U.S. House last year. But Carol Shea-Porter and Annie Kuster haven’t exactly been peas in a pod since arriving in Congress.

Kuster and Shea-Porter vote together 91 percent of the time, according to an analysis of roll-call votes by OpenCongress.org. That’s actually a little less than the average for Democrats in the House, who stick together 94 percent of the time.

Something of a pattern has started to emerge. On a half-dozen or so votes this year where Kuster and Shea-Porter split ways, Kuster was among a minority of Democrats who sided with the House’s Republican majority.

For example, on Jan. 23 the House passed the “No Budget, No Pay Act of 2013,” which docked pay for members of Congress if they didn’t make progress on passing a budget, by a 285-144 vote. Kuster and 85 other Democrats voted for it, while Shea-Porter and 110 other Democrats voted against it.

On Feb. 15, the House voted to freeze pay for federal employees by a 261-154 vote. Kuster was one of 43 Democrats to support the measure, while Shea-Porter was one of 144 Democrats who opposed it.

On June 6, the House voted 245-182 to pass an appropriations bill for the Department of Homeland Security. Kuster was one of 25 Democrats to support the bill, while Shea-Porter and 171 other Democrats voted against it.

It’s not limited to floor votes.

As a member of the House Agriculture Committee, Kuster voted in May for a farm bill that cut $20.5 billion from food stamps over 10 years. Her office boasted she had helped advance the “bipartisan farm bill” even though she decried its cuts to food stamps; by June, Kuster had joined Shea-Porter in opposing the bill on the House floor.

And in February, 32 first-term House members – Kuster, 10 other Democrats and 21 Republicans – signed on to an open letter demanding a balanced approach to fiscal policy.

“I’m proud to join with other new representatives from both sides of the aisle who share my commitment to that type of bipartisan approach,” Kuster said in a statement at the time.

Unlike much of the House, first-termer Kuster and third-termer Shea-Porter don’t occupy safe seats. Both districts flipped from Republicans to Democrats in 2006, back to Republicans in 2010 and then back to Democrats in 2012. Both are members of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s “Frontline Program,” which seeks to protect vulnerable incumbents.

But despite the fact that the 1st District tilts more Republican than does Kuster’s 2nd District, Shea-Porter has seemed more comfortable in the role of a liberal Democrat, while Kuster has appeared eager to burnish her bipartisan credentials.

To be fair, New Hampshire’s congresswomen are still voting together 91 percent of the time. But Kuster’s nods to the center haven’t gone unnoticed among the left at home.

“Pre-election progressive Annie was concerned about military spending, war, surveillance, etc. Blue Dog Annie marches in lockstep with the wingnuts on the far right, far too often. . . . We didn’t send you to Congress to be a Blue Dog, Annie,” wrote liberal blogger Susan Bruce in July.

Spokesmen for Shea-Porter and Kuster declined to comment for this column.

Cook in the ring?

Can a Republican who refuses to take The Pledge get nominated for high office in New Hampshire?

Brad Cook might try to find out.

The Manchester attorney, a longtime friend to the late U.S. senator Warren Rudman, is exploring a run for governor in 2014 against Democratic incumbent Gov. Maggie Hassan.

“I’m thinking about it,” Cook said Friday. “I won’t make any decision to do anything formal until after Thanksgiving.”

If nothing else, he said, he’s heard from a lot of people since his interest became public last week, including “retired moderate Republicans who thought there wasn’t much hope for their party.”

The Pledge has been a staple of state politics for decades, especially for Republicans, and has helped block a general sales tax or income tax from being introduced. Hassan took it last year when she ran for governor.

Cook wouldn’t follow suit, and said the state’s tax system deserves full study.

“Philosophically, I’m against it, and from a policy perspective, I think trying to be governor with one hand tied behind your back is a dumb idea,” he said.

If history is any guide, Hassan will be tough to beat in 2014. Since John Gilbert Winant was foiled in his 1926 re-election campaign (he would make a comeback in 1930, winning the second of three terms), only one New Hampshire governor has lost his or her run for a second term: Craig Benson, in 2004.

State Rep. George Lambert has also said he’s exploring a run against Hassan, and state Sen. Andy Sanborn has been mentioned as a potential candidate, too.

But plenty of Republicans have already said they’ll pass on the race, including Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, Executive Councilor Chris Sununu and 2012 gubernatorial candidate Kevin Smith.

Madam President

EMILY’s List is coming to New Hampshire to stump for a female president.

The national group, which raises money for pro-choice Democratic women, is holding its second “Madam President” town hall Sept. 27 at the Puritan Backroom in Manchester. The first was in Iowa, which holds the first presidential nominating caucuses; New Hampshire, of course, holds the first primary.

Tiffany Eddy, a former WMUR anchor, will moderate the event, which will include EMILY’s List President Stephanie Schriock, U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, Hassan and former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm.

(And before anyone starts speculating, Granholm probably isn’t running for president in 2016, given she was born in Canada and became a U.S. citizen at 18.)

Down to one gavel

House Speaker Terie Norelli has set down her second gavel.

The Portsmouth Democrat’s one-year term as president of the National Conference of State Legislatures came to an end last month.

She’s now the group’s immediate past president, with Oregon state Sen. Bruce Starr taking the top job.

Going for 25

Hassan has nominated Van McLeod for another term as commissioner of the Department of Cultural Resources. The Executive Council likely will vote on the nomination Wednesday, when it meets in Windham.

If confirmed, McLeod’s new four-year term would run until Sept. 11, 2017. He’s held the job since Aug. 24, 1992.

Specials on tap

Tuesday’s special House election in Manchester’s Ward 7 pits Democrat Mary Heath against Republican Ross Terrio.

Meanwhile, in Nashua’s Ward 8, Democrats Carl Andrade and Latha Mangipudi face off Tuesday in a state House primary. The winner faces Republican Pete Silva in the Nov. 5 special election.

Those races will fill two of the House’s three vacancies. The current balance of power: 218 Democrats versus 179 Republicans.

News of record

∎  Happy birthday to state Sen. Molly Kelly (today) and retired associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court David Souter (Tuesday).

∎ Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern is leaving Stonyfield Farm for a new day job: marketing director at College for America, an online-degree program run by Southern New Hampshire University.

∎ Tom Cronin, the state Senate majority caucus director, is now the Senate’s communications director. He replaces Carole Alfano, who moved over to the Judicial Branch as public information officer.

∎ Mazel tov to Pam Walsh, Hassan’s chief of staff, on the Sept. 3 birth of adopted son Luke Michael Walsh – nine pounds, 12 ounces.

∎ The U.S. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will hold a hearing Wednesday on President Obama’s nomination of Michael O’Rielly, former aide to senator John E. Sununu, to the Federal Communications Commission.

∎  The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee delayed a vote last week on whether to send Landya McCafferty’s nomination for U.S. district judge in New Hampshire to the Senate floor for a confirmation vote.

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or bleubsdorf@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)

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