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Capital Beat

Capital Beat: If history is guide, top N.H. officials probably won’t stay neutral in 2016

It’s no accident EMILY’s List held a town hall Friday in Manchester to promote the idea of a “Madam President.” After all, the road to the White House in 2016 will begin in New Hampshire – and Iowa, where the group held a similar event in August.

Gov. Maggie Hassan made a brief stop at the event. U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen was supposed to attend but got stuck in Washington on Senate business, so she sent a note.

It’s way too early for candidates to actually jump into the race to succeed President Obama, much less for the media to begin its quadrennial tallying of candidate endorsements by Granite State notables.

But assuming they both win re-election next year, Shaheen and Hassan would be two of the biggest possible catches for any Democratic presidential candidate in 2016. On the Republican side, the same is true for U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte.

And if history is any guide, they’ll all endorse a candidate. Probably.

“To me, it’s expected,” said Tom Rath, a longtime GOP strategist and former state attorney general. “Sometimes there’s grumbling in the party about it, but generally not. It’s understood that that’s going to happen.”

In the last five cycles, only twice have statewide elected officials – that is, sitting governors and U.S. senators – remained on the sidelines while their party had a contested presidential primary: Gov. John Lynch and Sen. John E. Sununu, both in 2008.

And in Lynch’s case, his neutrality didn’t extend to his wife. Dr. Susan Lynch endorsed Hillary Clinton and became co-chairwoman of her national campaign.

“The only time you would stay neutral or be neutral, I suppose, is if the primary were at stake,” Rath said. “Then I think you might see somebody saying, ‘I don’t want to tick off either side, so I’ll stay
neutral.’ ”

In 2012, Ayotte endorsed Mitt Romney, just as Sen. Judd Gregg did four years earlier.

In 2000, Shaheen, then governor, endorsed Al Gore, and her husband Billy Shaheen ran the vice president’s New Hampshire campaign. On the GOP side that year, Gregg endorsed George W. Bush while Sen. Bob Smith made his own quixotic run for president.

And in 1996, Gov. Steve Merrill and Gregg both endorsed Bob Dole, while Smith backed Phil Gramm.

In 2008, the last contested Democratic primary, Hassan, then majority leader in the state Senate, endorsed Clinton. Shaheen was running that year for the U.S. Senate and stayed neutral in the presidential primary – though her husband was a prominent Clinton supporter, at least until he resigned from her campaign after making an impolitic comment about potential GOP attacks on Obama’s past drug use.

So it wouldn’t come as a huge surprise if Hassan and Shaheen got behind a second Clinton campaign – again, assuming both women keep their jobs after the 2014 election.

As for Ayotte, she’ll be up for re-election in 2016, but not until November. She’ll have plenty of time to pick a favorite in the wide-open GOP presidential race that year – assuming that’s what she wants.

“If you want to play politics, you get in early,” Rath said. “You get in at a time when you’re appreciated and wanted, and you tend to have influence.”

Ayotte and the A-10

Ayotte’s standing up for the A-10 Thunderbolt, and blocking Obama’s nominee for Air Force secretary in the process.

The New Hampshire Republican is concerned about the possibility the Air Force might scrap its fleet of A-10s, a ground-support aircraft that dates to the 1970s and has been flown in combat by, among others, Ayotte’s husband Joe Daley.

So last Tuesday, Ayotte placed a hold on Obama’s nomination of Deborah Lee James to be the civilian head of the Air Force, a job that requires Senate confirmation.

“The A-10 airframe is credited with saving 60 American lives this summer in Afghanistan,” said Ayotte spokeswoman Liz Johnson in a statement. “Sen. Ayotte wasn’t getting answers she had requested from the Air Force about whether it intends to prematurely eliminate this aircraft before there is a replacement aircraft that will ensure there isn’t a capability gap that could put our troops at risk.

“We understand the Air Force is in the process of responding to the senator’s questions, and when she receives a substantive response, she will release the hold on Ms. James’ nomination.”

Patient pending

When the Therapeutic Use of Cannabis Advisory Council met for the first time last week, it brought together both supporters and opponents of New Hampshire’s new medical marijuana law – legislators, hospital executives, a police chief, the commander of the state police’s drug unit.

But a few seats were empty, including the one reserved for an actual patient.

Under the law, Hassan gets to appoint four members of the council, and she’s named three – but not yet a patient who would qualify to use medical marijuana.

“We have a patient and are in the process of finalizing the appointment,” wrote Hassan spokesman William Hinkle in an email. “They should be at the next meeting.”

Matt Simon, legislative analyst from the Marijuana Policy Project, wasn’t happy.

“The governor’s failure to appoint a patient in time for the first meeting is a matter of serious concern for all patients who are still suffering without safe, legal access to cannabis,” Simon said in a statement. “The Legislature clearly did not intend for this advisory council to be voting and making decisions without a patient being present, but that seems to be exactly what happened at (Thursday’s) meeting. I would strongly encourage Gov. Hassan to comply with the law and appoint a patient to the council without further delay.”

Powerful panels

Tomorrow’s New Hampshire Energy Summit is set to tackle, among other things, natural gas prices and the customer-migration woes of Public Service of New Hampshire.

The event, in its second year and hosted by the Dupont Group, will be held at the Holiday Inn in Concord from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Tickets are $20.

Panels include “The Maturing of the Sustainable Energy Industry” and “A Bridge to the Utility of the Future: Migration, Divestiture and Completing Restructuring.” (The latter is a clear nod to PSNH’s problems with customer migration and related calls for divestiture of its fossil fuel-burning power plants.)

Speakers include Hassan, Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley and a posse of energy-industry executives.

Lunch and lecture

One-half of the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley auditing reform law will be in Concord this week.

Former Ohio Republican congressman Mike Oxley will speak Friday at the University of New Hampshire School of Law. He’ll take questions after delivering a speech, “The Ties That Bind: Fiscal Responsibility and Private Sector Economic Crises.”

The event starts at noon., with lunch provided. It’s free and open to the public, but space is limited; email to register.

Showdown in Nashua

The next House special election will be held Nov. 5 in Nashua’s Ward 8. The seat’s been empty since Democrat Roland LaPlante resigned early this year.

One-time House majority leader Peter Silva is the Republican candidate. On the Democratic side, Latha Mangipudi emerged victorious in the Sept. 17 primary.

Mangipudi initially finished second, with 167 votes to 170 for Carl Andrade. But a recount placed the final tally at 191 for Mangipudi, 146 for Andrade.

The House currently has 219 Democrats, 179 Republicans and two vacancies.

Quick takes

∎ State Sen. Andy Sanborn told WMUR-TV Friday that he would not be a candidate for governor in 2014.

∎ Ayotte and five other members of Congress have been named 2013 Legislators of the Year by the National Council for Behavioral Health.

∎ Former House speaker Donna Sytek and Wendell Jesseman, chairman of New England Wire Technologies, are the 2013 winners of the Business and Industry Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

∎ Ex-Jon Huntsman and John McCain aide Matt Flanders and former state GOP spokeswoman Christine Baratta Fleming have joined the staff at b-fresh consulting, the Manchester political consulting group led by Sarah Crawford Stewart.

∎ The American Red Cross will hold a blood drive Wednesday at the State House, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Appointments can be scheduled with a call to 271-2757.

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

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