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Capital Beat: District 7 Senate race turns ugly online and in the mail

This close to the election day, we thought we were done reporting on dirty deeds in the state Senate race between Republican Josh Youssef and Democrat Andrew Hosmer of Laconia. There were the Post-it notes that suggested Franklin Mayor Ken Merrifield was supporting Youssef when he wasn’t. There was the fake, copycat blog that suggested Youssef had the enthusiastic support of his ex-wife’s attorney when he didn’t.

And now there are dueling websites and calls for legal action over a political mailer.

Raise your hand if you think Tuesday can’t come fast enough.

Youssef and Hosmer are running for the District 7 seat that represents Canterbury, Boscawen, Belmont, Salisbury, Franklin, Webster, Andover, Laconia, Northfield and Gilford.

First up was a website created by Granite State Progress, a Concord-based progressive advocacy group that highlights Youssef’s position on several issues. Called therealjoshyoussef.com, the site says Youssef favors using public money for private schools and giving tax breaks to companies at the expense of supporting the state’s universities. On the campaign trail, Youssef has endorsed those ideas and said he’d like to privatize higher education in New Hampshire.

The website also says Youssef has a “long, troubled public history” that includes using Merrifield and his ex-wife’s lawyer to promote his candidacy. And it cites Monitor reporting on Youssef’s failure to pay federal income taxes for several years and a court’s finding that he owes his son $17,000 in back child support for under-reporting his income.

The site features a picture of Youssef and makes clear that it was paid for and promoted by Granite State Progress.

Youssef wasn’t happy to see it this week and said so on his public Facebook page Wednesday.

“My opponent and his clan are getting concerned,” Youssef wrote. “They created a fake website using my name and are advertising it like crazy on Facebook and YouTube. I wonder if they know they are using photos of me for which I own the copyright. These Democrats will use anything they can find to try and steal an election.”

First, it’s not a fake website, said Zandra Rice Hawkins, executive director of Granite State Progress. And second, Hosmer wasn’t involved in creating it, she said. Her group isn’t allowed to coordinate its activities with candidates, she said, and this site was one of many the group has created about candidates it disagrees with.

You probably won’t be surprised to hear that a Youssef supporter immediately responded in kind with realhosmer.com, an anti-Hosmer website that’s high on innuendo and accusations and short on sourcing.

The site, which identifies Nate Defosses of Laconia as the creator, accuses Hosmer of employing “foreign nationals” at a “near slave’s wage” to help care for his four children. He reveals that Hosmer has been “administratively suspended” as a Massachusetts lawyer but doesn’t give the not-so-interesting reason why. He faults Hosmer for saying his children get a “superior” education at a private Catholic school while saying he also supports public school.

Defosses claims Hosmer is “Catholic only when it’s convenient” because he’s pro-choice and outs Hosmer and his wife, whose family owns AutoServ, for driving cars with dealer plates.

Lastly, Defosses blames Hosmer for the closure of a Laconia Jeep dealership on the grounds that Hosmer contributed to President Obama’s campaign and Obama bailed out the auto industry. Hosmer picked up the Jeep franchise after the dealership closed, Defosses says on the website.

No, we can’t make sense of that last accusation for you because Defosses hung up on us both times we called him – after telling us not to contact him again.

We finally reached Defosses via Facebook, where Youssef is one of his six friends. But that didn’t go well.

“I have nothing to say to you,” Defosses wrote. “Write whatever lies you like. All of your readers are brainwashed ‘progressive’ left just like you, anyway. You gave yourself away with the comment that I have ‘mistakes’ on (my Hosmer) site. You’ve appointed yourself as the authority of correctness, so what would be the point in talking to you. You’re obviously not a reporter, since an ethical, unbiased journalist would never say something so idiotic and telling. My ‘don’t call me again’ includes all contact. Don’t contact me again, through any means.”

Messages received.

What we had asked Defosses for was evidence backing up the significant charges he makes against Hosmer on the site.

We can confirm that Hosmer is pro-choice. He’s repeatedly said so publicly. We can also confirm that he sends his four children to a Catholic school and that he’s voiced his support for public school.

We were curious about the “administratively suspended” status on Hosmer’s law license in Massachusetts. Youssef also raised this matter in an interview with Monitor editors recently, so we called the Board of Bar Overseeers in Massachusetts.

Michael Fredrickson, the board’s general counsel, said the phrase means a lawyer has not paid his dues or provided the board with a change of address. Lots of lawyers licensed in the Bay State are under such a suspension. “There’s no implication of wrongdoing at all,” Fredrickson said.

That’s not on Defosses’s website. This is instead: “Why would someone go to law school, work as a public lawyer for only four years, then go to work in the service department of his father-in-law’s car dealership?”

We asked Hosmer to explain.

He and his wife were both lawyers back in the early 1990s; he was a prosecutor living in Massachusetts, and she worked for a law firm in Concord. They were living in separate states trying to decide whether to stay in law or try something new. They both opted for something new and went to work for her family’s business.

Hosmer stopped practicing law in 1996 but continued to pay his bar dues in Massachusetts until this year, he said. He didn’t see the point of paying $400 to $500 to hold onto a license he wasn’t using, so he didn’t renew the license this year, he said.

How about those “foreign-nationals” caring for the Hosmer children, three of whom are 8-year-old triplets?

Hosmer said he and his wife use au pairs from overseas to help care for the kids. They work through an agency in Boston. Each au pair stays for about a year, and the Hosmers pay the travel and visa expenses to get them here as well as an hourly wage. They also provide room and board, health insurance and worker’s compensation, Hosmer said.

“It’s a wonderful program,” Hosmer said. “It’s culturally enriching for my children. We’ve had au pairs from all over the world. They stay for a year or two and some come back and visit.”

Hosmer said he doesn’t know Defosses but doesn’t believe he is alone in creating the realhosmer.com website.

“This is the work of Josh Youssef and a cadre of supporters who are vile and malicious,” he said. “It’s when you don’t have anything to say that is productive that you turn to personal attacks. He’s done it to (primary challenger) Bill Grimm. He’s done it to his former business partners. He’s done it to his ex-wife. The difference is, I’m not going to stand here and take it.”

We emailed Youssef for comment on the website. (He instructed us a while back to put all questions in writing if we wanted answers.) His assistant Nick Zaricki responded.

“We do not endorse negative campaigning and have run a positive campaign on the issues,” he said. “We have asked our supporters to refrain from attacking our opponent, and to our knowledge, no negative mail has been sent against Mr. Hosmer. I am disappointed that Mr. Hosmer and his supporters have resorted to negative pieces filled with lies rather than a substantive discussion of the issues.”

Among those negative mailers was one sent by the state Democratic Party with the approval of Chairman Ray Buckley. It features a battered woman on the front with the words, “Josh Youssef thinks domestic abuse . . . is her fault.”

On the back, Youssef is quoted as saying victims of domestic violence “need to be educated so they stop returning to a violent ‘lifestyle.’ ” Youssef made the remark during a recent debate with Hosmer, and his comment was reported by the Monitor and the Laconia Daily Sun.

The mailer also includes a tweet from us reporting that statement.

Friday night, David Hurst of the Young Republicans issued a press release urging Youssef to “seek legal” action against Buckley and the state Democrats for the mailer.

Hurst called the mailer a “new low” and accused Buckley, on behalf of Hosmer, of using battered women as “tools for political gain.” It seems Youssef may heed Hurst’s suggestion.

He was quoted in the Laconia Citizen yesterday saying that if he determines that the mailer came from the state Democratic Party he would file a $5 million defamation lawsuit in Belknap County Superior Court against it and Buckley tomorrow morning. Since the flier clearly discloses it was the work of the party, we emailed Youssef yesterday to ask if he was going through with the lawsuit.

No response.

It wouldn’t be his first defamation lawsuit.

In the fall of 2010, Youssef filed a defamation lawsuit against his ex-wife Bethany Youssef after she posted a comment on her private Facebook page that read, “ex-hubby’s suck.”

The two were in post-divorce litigation over child custody and support, and Bethany Youssef did not include Youssef’s name in her post.

Bethany Youssef spent close to $2,000 fighting the lawsuit and said, as a result, she had to take their son out of private school because she could not afford the tuition. A judge ruled against Youssef and ordered him in February 2011 to reimburse his ex-wife $1,800 for her attorney fees.

Three. More. Days.

Watching the polls

The whole world will be watching Tuesday as Americans pick their next president. In New Hampshire, that’s taking the form of two men named Paul Wesson and Elchin Musayev.

Wesson, of the United Kingdom, and Musayev, of Azerbaijan, are two of the 44 international observers who have been deployed across the United States to observe the election and report on whether it was conducted in a free and fair manner.

We know, we know. After 224 years, we feel like we’ve pretty much figured out how to hold a presidential election.

But this isn’t a new thing – the “limited election observation mission” is organized by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, which has observed U.S. elections every two years since 2002 at the invitation of our government.

The OSCE (which, for the record, isn’t part of the United Nations) routinely observes elections around the world and often calls on Americans to observe elections in other countries. Both U.S. senators from New Hampshire, Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte, are members of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, the independent agency that works with the OSCE.

“In an ideal world, every country is observed. . . . It’s normal,” Wesson said Friday. “On every mission I’ve been on, other than this one, there have been observers from the United States, without exception.”

This is Wesson’s 30th observation mission with the OSCE, and the third for Musayev. They’ve been assigned to Massachusetts and New Hampshire, and have been meeting with local election officials and attending political rallies, with plans this weekend to see Mitt Romney in Portsmouth and President Obama in Concord.

Come Tuesday, Wesson said, they’ll be visiting a number of polling places across the state “and we’re going to observe the electoral process. And it’s purely observation. We will stand with the other observers, behind the rail. . . . We’re not interfering. We’re totally neutral.”

Their schedule was still being worked out, but they plan to end the day at a Concord polling place, Wesson said, because their hotel is here.

Deputy City Clerk Michelle Mulholland said Wesson and Musayev met with Concord officials Friday.

“They were very pleasant,” she said. “They’re really interested.”

Not every state, however, has been quite so welcoming. Top state officials in Iowa and Texas have threatened to arrest OSCE observers if they come too close to polling places on Tuesday.

“We’ve been well received in Concord, very well-received across New Hampshire generally, and it’s quite good,” Wesson said.

The OSCE mission’s leaders, who are based in Washington, plan to hold a press conference Wednesday to give their preliminary verdict on how things went.

Ayotte: No to AG

Ayotte likes her current job just fine, thank you very much.

The New Hampshire Republican was asked on WKXL radio last week if she’d consider serving as attorney general under a newly elected President Romney.

After all, Ayotte is something of a rising Republican star and already has experience as a (state) attorney general. There was even talk a few months back of her as a contender for the vice-presidential slot.

No dice, the senator said.

“I’d say that is obviously a great honor, but no,” Ayotte said, laughing. “I am deeply honored to represent New Hampshire.”

Naming names

Free Staters have a policy of not “outing” one another, especially those who win election to the State House. That was the group’s response last election when chatters on the Free State Forum asked that the nearly dozen winners be identified. And in an online chat earlier this year, a few legislators were trying to guess the Free Staters among them.

Granite State Progress, a Concord-based progressive advocacy group, pulled the veil back last week and named names.

Its focus has been on a Manchester House race in which two Free Stater roommates are running for the same seat. Tim O’Flaherty is on the Democratic ticket, and his roommate, Daniel Garthwaite is on the Republican side. (Former Democratic House member Richard Komi is running a write-in campaign.)

Garthwaite is the group’s webmaster and O’Flaherty lists the Free State Project as one of his interests on Facebook.

“Look for more of this in the future as more activists move here and take over the Republican and Democrat(ic) parties,” wrote Ian Freeman on the website of Free Keene, a group that includes Free Staters.

Who are the others seeking office?

Locally, they are Reps. Dan and Carol McGuire of Epsom, Jenn Coffey of Andover and Mark Warden of Goffstown, who is seeking the seat that also represents Deering. We’d add Lydia Harman, a Warner Realtor, who is running against Sen. Sylvia Larsen of Concord for the state Senate.

To be fair, Harman technically can’t be a Free Stater because she is from New Hampshire and therefore did not move here with the project. But she advertises her properties through the group’s websites and holds its “liberty-minded” views of less government. We asked Harman if that made her a “porcupine,” the term for Free State sympathizers who can’t meet the residency test.

“I don’t think so,” she said. “I haven’t noticed any quills growing on me.”

That’s sweet

Those campaign contribution you’re giving candidates are mostly buying political mailers and advertisements. (It’s good to be Spectrum Marketing in Manchester.) But every now and then, an expense or two stands out.

Like the $15 Rep. Jeanine Notter, a Merrimack Republican, spent at Lindt Chocolate in Exeter.

“More candy for my campaign,” she wrote on an expense report filed Wednesday. “I put a candy with my business card.”

Rep. John Reagan, a Deerfield Republican, running for the state Senate reimbursed himself $3,226 for mileage, according to his campaign finance report. Since Reagan disclosed that he paid himself the federal mileage reimbursement rate, which is 55.5 cents a mile, that’s about 5,865 miles of driving.

Arthur Beaudry, the independent running for the District 18 Senate seat that includes Litchfield and several Manchester wards, likes the food at Theo’s Pizzeria in Manchester. He’s spent $220 there since August on three “dinner meetings” and one buffet.

His last dinner meeting, with a tab of $109, was at Cactus Jack’s.

Cornerstone: Us Too!

Last week, we told you about an $85,000 donation by a Focus on the Family affiliate to Cornerstone Action PAC, which had earlier condemned a pro-gay marriage state PAC for taking a large donation.

We didn’t hear back from Acting Executive Director Shannon McGinley until a few days ago. She told us, yes, the group was unhappy back in September about Paul Singer’s $100,000 donation to New Hampshire Republicans for Freedom and Equality. But since Attorney General Michael Delaney has determined that the state’s $5,000 limit for PAC contributions is probably unenforceable under the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, they didn’t want to be left out.

“The attorney general’s advisory concerning the Citizens United decision is great news for families across New Hampshire, as it will allow people to put their dollars to work to elect candidates who will put traditional family values first,” McGinley said in a statement.

“Now that we have the attorney general’s opinion in writing that the law should be interpreted differently in New Hampshire than it always has been, we will hold him to his interpretation of the law and take full advantage of our equal treatment under it.”

Cornerstone began putting that money to use last week for, among other things, an anti-Maggie Hassan radio spot that accuses the Democratic gubernatorial candidate of being obsessed with “fringe social issues” like gay marriage.

And yes, this is coming from Cornerstone – a group that we would argue focuses on social issues pretty much all the time.

Close, close, close

We know you know: It’s going to be close on Tuesday, up and down the ballot.

How close? Ask some national analysts.

Headed into the weekend, Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia was rating New Hampshire as a toss-up in the presidential race and a “leans Democratic” in the gubernatorial race, with the 2nd District race leaning Democratic and the 1st District race leaning Republican.

Stu Rothenberg of the Rothenberg Political Report ranked both House races, the gubernatorial contest and New Hampshire’s four electoral votes all as pure tossups.

And Charlie Cook’s Cook Political Report ranked New Hampshire as a tossup in the gubernatorial and presidential races. Cook had the 1st District race as a tossup and the 2nd District race leaning Democratic.

We’ll find out soon enough.

Last-minute endorsements

∎ U.S. Rep. Frank Guinta picked up the endorsement of the Susan B. Anthony List Candidate Fund, a pro-life group, in his 1st District race against Democrat Carol Shea-Porter. The antiabortion group had previously endorsed fellow Republican Ovide Lamontagne in the gubernatorial race.

∎ Lamontagne released a list of more than 30 “Democrats for Ovide,” including Bobby Stephen, longtime chairman of the state Boxing and Wrestling Commission and a former state senator. (His son, John Stephen, was the Republican nominee for governor two years ago.)

∎ Hassan was endorsed by the Metal Trades Council.

∎ Scott Hilliard got the endorsement of the Concord Police Patrolman’s Association for another term as Merrimack County sheriff. Hilliard is a Republican but appears on Tuesday’s ballot as the nominee of both major parties.

Quote of the week

“I know that the folks in Salem are trying to figure out what to do in Salem, and I feel for those folks. I also feel for the people up in Berlin, who could use some kind of commerce, other than working for the prison or running drugs, I guess. . . . It’s an unfortunate situation, but it’s not my district.”

That would be Harman, the Warner Republican challenging Larsen for her seat in the Senate, explaining her opposition to expanded gambling during an interview with the Monitor editorial board.

Budget up ahead

Yes, life will go on after Tuesday. And the inevitable battle over the next state budget is only a few months away.

The Business and Industry Association will hold a lunchtime forum on the state budget Nov. 29 at the Grappone Conference Center in Concord. Billed as “What We Want vs. What We Can Afford: Crafting New Hampshire’s Next State Budget,” it’ll feature Charlie Arlinghaus of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy and Jeff McLynch of the New Hampshire Fiscal Policy Institute.

Looking for a more, er, elevated take on state spending? The Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester on Saturday is sponsoring “The Mission of New Hampshire Catholics in the Public Square: The Moral Dimensions of Budget Choices.”

Scheduled 9 a.m. to noon at the St. Elizabeth Seton Parish Hall in Bedford, the event will feature John Carr, a former top policy adviser to U.S. Catholic bishops and now a fellow at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics.

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or bleubsdorf@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf. Annmarie Timmins can be reached at 369-3323 or atimmins@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @annmarietimmins.)

Legacy Comments1

au pairs???? Who uses au pairs???

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