Capital Beat: Possible presidential candidates building groundwork for 2016
Actions speak a whole lot louder than words when it comes to presidential politics.
With the midterm election still 86 days a way, no politician – Republican or Democrat – is foolish enough to overtly say he or she is running for president. But look around New Hampshire, and it’s clear a number of possible candidates are building the groundwork to get a campaign up and running as soon as November is over.
“This is the invisible primary before the primary,” says Mike Biundo, a veteran New Hampshire strategist who was recently hired to head Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s political action committee.
Paul came to New Hampshire in April. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie came in June and July. Later this month, Texas Gov. Rick Perry will headline an event with the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, and that comes on the heels of his recent partnership with the state Republican Party to criticize U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen’s stance on immigration. On the Democratic side, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley is the only possible candidate brave enough to enter the New Hampshire waters before Hillary Clinton makes her intentions known. He’ll headline a fundraiser for New Hampshire’s Senate Democrats this month – his third trip to New Hampshire since December.
But for a more subtle indication of a candidate’s intentions here, look at the infrastructure he or she is building.
On the Republican side, both Christie and Paul are in a good position to deploy a solid ground game if and when they jump into the race.
“Paul has a leg up because of his father and those people are intensely loyal,” said Tom Rath, a longtime GOP strategist. “That’s an advantage nobody else has.”
But he’s also putting together his own political organization. Just last month, he brought on Biundo’s group RightOn Strategies to lead his political action committee for New England, making him the only potential candidate with paid New Hamsphire staffers at this point. Biundo was a top New Hampshire aid to Rick Santorum then later joined Mitt Romney’s campaign.
“Mike Biundo’s hiring was definitely a siren call,” said Fergus Cullen, a former chairman of the state Republican Party.
Christie, on the other hand, isn’t paying anyone to be in New Hampshire, but he has a number of allies here. Matt Mowers, executive director of the New Hampshire Republican Party, is a former Christie aid, as is Colin Reed, campaign manager for Scott Brown’s U.S. Senate campaign. Reed worked for Brown first, then went to Christie’s office after Brown lost his 2012 re-election campaign. Pete Sheridan, chairman of the New Jersey Republican Party, will join Walt Havenstein’s gubernatorial campaign tomorrow as deputy campaign manager.
Not one of these people is working for Christie right now, but it still works in his favor to have them here. Two of his allies in New Jersey also have deep New Hampshire ties: Consultant Mike DuHaime, who led Christie’s 2009 campaign, worked on George W. Bush’s 2004 campaign here, as did Maria Comella, Christie’s deputy chief of staff for communications.
Any of these people offer Christie a few advantages if and when he gets in the race: They know the state well, and they have friends here.
“You’d like to find somebody who knows how to get from Concord to Portsmouth without having to go through a toll booth,” Rath said regarding the importance of having someone who’s familiar with New Hampshire’s landscape – political and otherwise.
Several other candidates have one or two ties to New Hampshire. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, for example, has Jill Neunaber running his political action committee. She was deputy state director for Romney’s 2012 New Hampshire operation and also served as political director for Ovide Lamontagne’s 2010 U.S. Senate campaign. Veteran Concord strategist Mike Dennehy is behind Perry, who is making a clear effort to rehabilitate his image in New Hampshire. On Aug. 22, he’ll be a featured guest at an AFP event in Manchester that will highlight New Hampshire’s business taxes.
But there are a handful of other possible Republican candidates who haven’t made any strong movements to build a campaign here, such as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz or Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Rubio, Cruz and Ryan have all made a trip here this year, but they do not have strong allies on the ground here. Walker is facing a re-election battle that is likely consuming most of his attention, but he does have a possible connection in Havenstein campaign manager Matt Seaholm, who ran Americans for Prosperity’s state operation in Wisconsin during the Walker recall effort. Bush hasn’t been to New Hampshire in years, but he would likely have a strong contingent of former Bush people here if he chose to run.
Once the Republican primary is over on Sept. 9, there may be more action from candidates. A big part of succeeding in New Hampshire starts with showing candidates here that you care about them by helping raise money and support the state party. That’s much easier to do when a general election candidate has been chosen.
“Anyone who is even thinking about running can come to New Hampshire and help the ticket,” said Steve Duprey, a top McCain aide and member of the Republican National Committee. “The midterm elections are the perfect opportunity to get up here.”
Meanwhile, on the Democratic side there is a lot of waiting around for Clinton to make a decision. The Clintons have long been popular in New Hampshire and most prominent Democrats have committed to backing a Clinton candidacy. If she doesn’t run, though, O’Malley’s positioning himself well. He does not have aides on the ground here, but he’s made several trips here and is putting in serious work to help raise money for Democrats.
For all of these candidates, they’ll have to start building a framework here soon if they want to have a strong launch, several consultants said. In the 2012 election, Republican candidates didn’t start declaring until April of 2011, but in 2008 candidates from both major parties had almost all announced by February 2007.
“There’s no magic date where you throw the switch,” Rath said. “We’re in prologue season . . . you have to use this time.”
Headaches for Hassan
Republicans are determined to create as many political headaches for Hassan as possible.
On the campaign side, the state party has filed several complaints with the attorney general’s office regarding her fundraising and other campaign actions. The first complaint resulted in Hassan’s campaign returning $33,000 in donations that it received one day after she filed for re-election, which is when donation limits for political committees set in. Their new criticism focuses on Hassan’s first television ad, which started airing this week.
Hassan filmed the ad in the governor’s office, which the state Republican Party says violates a state law banning electioneering on government property. State party Chairwoman Jennifer Horn filed an information request asking when Hassan filmed the ad and whether her official staff were paid. In a response sent Friday afternoon, Hassan’s legal counsel, Lucy Hodder, said Hassan filmed the ad on Saturday, July 26. She said no staff employed by the governor’s office were scheduled to assist “in any official capacity.” She also said any emails about the ad were related to scheduling, but she did not provide the emails.
The state Democratic Party, meanwhile, launched personal attacks on Horn, calling her “desperate” for attacking Hassan’s ethics. They pointed to Horn owing $92,000 in back taxes, something that first surfaced in 2013.
“Between not paying her taxes and her questionable campaign finance actions, Horn’s credibility on ethical questions is even worse than her record of winning elections,” Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley said in a press release.
On the official side, state Republicans are after Hassan to give an update on state spending. The fiscal year closed June 30 with revenues coming in close to the targets, but a report on spending is not due until 90 days after the close of the year.
Democratic leadership has not agreed to Republican requests for spending updates. On Friday, Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, a Wolfeboro Republican, launched something called “Spending Watch ’14,” which will track the number of days between the end of the fiscal year and when state agencies report their spending. So far its been 32. A press release noted its been 86 since Hassan put her spending freeze in place.
Last week she also asked state agencies to put a hold on “large expenditures” and directed agency heads to submit “conservative” budget proposals for the next budget.
Fewer debates, please
Think there should be fewer Republican presidential primary debates in 2016? Talk to Steve Duprey about it.
On Friday, Duprey was named chairman of the Republican National Committee’s debate committee, charged with setting guidelines for primary debates, including how many there will be. Ask Duprey, and there were way too many in 2012.
“We bored the voters,” he said. “I think the goal is to cut down on the number of debates. We want enough so everyone gets a fair shot, (but we) don’t turn off the American public.”
Duprey also thinks the debates should be spread out instead of held primarily in Iowa and New Hampshire.
“It helps our party build interest in our candidates when we spread them out geographically as well,” he said.
Juliana Bergeron, another New Hampshire member of the RNC, is also on the debate committee.
What to watch
∎ Scott Brown’s campaign is using a new form of digital advertising known as Google Engagement Ads, which target New Hampshire readers who are reading stories about Brown. A New Hampshire reader scanning through a recent Politico article on Brown’s immigration ad, for example, is likely to see the ad alongside the story. These ads have an engagement rate 10 times that of normal display ads, according to Brown’s campaign. Is this the ad wave of the future?
∎ The Legislature will return Sept. 17 for votes to override Hassan’s vetoes. It looks like at least one bill – the anti-bullying bill –could get the necessary two-thirds support to override the veto. Whether Democratic leadership will push for that to happen in an election year, however, is another story.
∎ U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster launched her first television ad this week, focusing on her efforts to pass legislation helping microbrewers. Neither of the major candidates in the competitive Republican primary, Gary Lambert or Marilinda Garcia, have put up their own TV ads. Fellow candidate Jim Lawrence has done one, but it was very low production quality and doesn’t seem to have given him a boost. Heading toward the Sept. 9 primary, an ad could seriously help Lambert or Garcia raise their name ID.
(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @kronayne.)