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Time for primary choices

Last modified: 9/11/2012 12:00:00 AM
UPDATE: This story was updated Sept. 11 to correct an erroneous reference to an endorsement for John Reagan.

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When voters go to the polls for today's primary election, they'll do something they haven't in eight years: select two candidates for governor who don't include John Lynch.

Further down the ballot, voters will narrow the choices for Executive Council, state Senate and the House. And while the general election isn't until November, the question today is whether Republicans will stick with the conservative agenda set this past session.

With their candidate pledges and voter guides, right-wing political groups and right-to-work advocates have worked especially hard to identify "bad-voting" Republicans this election.

Rep. Priscilla Lockwood, a Canterbury Republican serving her seventh term, has been targeted for ouster by the conservative Republican Liberty Caucus of New Hampshire for being too moderate.

The same group has weighed in on the Republican race for the District 7 state Senate seat, which represents Franklin, Laconia and several towns around Concord. The group is backing "conservative Constitutionalist" Josh Youssef of Laconia over moderate Republican Bill Grimm of Franklin.

There's another race to watch today - Speaker Bill O'Brien's, the conservative and controversial leader of the House.

O'Brien, of Mont Vernon, is one of three Republicans seeking two House seats representing Mont Vernon and New Boston. One of O'Brien's rivals is Bob Mead, a former state representative who served as O'Brien's chief of staff before he was replaced last year.

If O'Brien survives the primary, he and another Republican will face two Democratic challengers in November.

For those voting in today's elections, you don't yet need your photo ID to vote. And you probably won't have to wait in line. Primary turnout is typically low, and Secretary of State Bill Gardner is expecting it will be so today. He's predicted 102,000 Republicans and 66,000 Democrats will head to the polls today.

Here's a look at some of the contested primary races:

 Governor

 

Democrat John Lynch has had a lock on the governor's seat for eight years, and his retirement has given both parties hope of grabbing the corner office.

On the Democratic side, there are three candidates running, businessman Bill Kennedy of Danbury and two former state senators, Maggie Hassan of Exeter and Jackie Cilley of Barrington. This is where their positions on broad-based taxes distinguish the candidates.

Hassan has taken a pledge against any sales or income tax. Kennedy wants a flat-rate income tax to relieve the property tax burden. And Cilley has said she's open to a sales or income tax but has not said whether she would try to introduce one.

This race will likely hinge on this: Are Democrats willing to elect a candidate who won't take the pledge? And do they think that candidate can win in November?

On other major issues - education funding, the death penalty, abortion rights and support for health care - Cilley and Hassan don't differ, though during their four years together in the state Senate they cast opposite votes on a few high-profile bills. Cilley opposed a smoking ban in restaurants and a cap on the interest rate charged by payday loan lenders. Hassan supported both those measures.

Hassan has spent about $974,000 on her campaign, more than any other gubernatorial candidate in the race. Cilley has spent about $300,000.. Both ran ads on broadcast television, but Cilley's ad casting pledge-takers as zombies certainly generated the most buzz.

Hassan picked up some big endorsements: the national pro-choice group Emily's List, the state chapter of the National Education Association and endorsements from three newspapers, including the Nashua Telegraph and the Keene Sentinel. And former president Bill Clinton came to the state to back her.

Cilley landed support from the State Employees' Association, former Stonyfield Farm president Gary Hirshberg, police and fire unions, and endorsements from five New Hampshire newspapers, including the Concord Monitor.

On the Republican side, three names will appear on the ballot: Kevin Smith of Litchfield and Ovide Lamontagne and Robert Tarr, both of Manchester. But only Smith and Lamontagne have mounted campaigns.

Lamontagne and Smith share socially conservative views. They oppose gay marriage, mandatory birth control insurance coverage and abortion. When he was the executive director of Cornerstone Action, a conservative advocacy group, Smith spent a lot of time pushing that agenda.

But in this race, Lamontagne and Smith have downplayed their positions on social issues and said they are running and will govern on a "jobs and the economy" agenda.

They both support education tax credits for private schools, including religious schools. They differ, however, on business taxes and gambling.

Smith favors a seven-year phased reduction of the business profits tax from 8.5 percent to 5 percent, and the business enterprise tax from 0.75 percent to 0.25 percent. Lamontagne would cut the business profits tax to 8 percent over two years and create tax credits under the business enterprise tax for new production and manufacturing jobs, or for businesses that help pay down employees' student loans.

On gambling, Lamontagne supports a single, high-end casino at Rockingham Park in Salem. Lamontagne's Manchester law firm counts Rockingham Park as a client, but Lamontagne has said that won't be a conflict because he will cut ties with his firm if elected.

Smith supports two casino licenses, both of which would be awarded through a bidding process.

Lamontagne has raised more than any other candidate in the race: $1.2 million. He's spent about $724,000 of it. Smith has raised $339,000 and spent $294,000.

 Executive Council

 

• As a result of this year's redistricting, most of the Concord area is now represented by two seats on the Executive Council.

There are three Democrats running for the District 2 seat, which includes Concord, Canterbury, Webster, Northfield and Franklin: Colin Van Ostern of Concord; John Shea of Nelson; and Shawn Mickelonis of Rochester.

Van Ostern, a business manager at Stonyfield Farm, has raised $157,371 and has been on a non-stop swing of house parties in the campaign's final days. Shea, who held the seat from 2006-2010, and Mickelonis have not reported any campaign donations and have led much quieter campaigns.

The winner of this primary will face attorney Michael Tierney of Hopkinton, who is suing Planned Parenthood of Northern New England in an effort to stop it from dispensing birth control medication.

• There's a Republican primary race for the District 4 council seat, which represents Bow, Pembroke, Loudon, Chichester, Epsom, Northwood and Barnstead. The three candidates provide voters some clear choices.

Sen. Tom DeBlois of Manchester says his experience as a state senator for the past two years means he's ready to serve on the council from day one. Bob Burns, 34, of Bedford says his youth and conservative credentials qualify him. And Chuck Rolecek, also of Bedford, says he's moderate enough to represent all of the district, not just Republicans, should he win.

The conservative political group Americans for Prosperity has given Burns an A for his positions.

DeBlois, who develops and manages real estate in Manchester, said he would prioritize putting all state contracts to an open bidding process. DeBlois isn't disputing Burns's claim of being the most conservative candidate in the race. DeBlois considers it a compliment.

"I'm proud of the fact that I'm a little bit more moderate on some social issues, but I'm a true fiscal conservative," DeBlois said in a recent Monitor interview. "I think the time is right for someone that is not political, or is apolitical. Someone who can bring to the job a real pragmatic set of skills."

Rolecek is the owner of the Hanover Street Chophouse in Manchester, a job he said has taught him valuable skills that would serve him well as a councilor.

 State Senate

 

There are three Republican primary fights worth watching here.

• In District 7, which includes Franklin, Laconia, Canterbury, Northfield, and Belmont among other towns, Bill Grimm of Franklin is running against Josh Youssef.

Both oppose a sales or income tax and favor right-to-work legislation. Youssef opposes all abortion, including in cases of rape or incest, while Grimm would make exceptions for those situations.

Youssef's right-wing positions have earned him the support of the conservative Republican Liberty Caucus of New Hampshire. He also has the support of several conservative Republican House members and outgoing Republican Sen. James Forsythe of Strafford.

Youssef is particularly unhappy with the state's family court system. He filed a complaint with the House Redress of Grievances Committee alleging wrongdoing by every judge and court official who handled his 2005 divorce.

At Youssef's request, the committee has voted to investigate impeachment proceedings against the judges who sat on the case. Youssef and his ex-wife are still disputing what Youssef owes his son in child support. A Laconia district court judge has concluded that Youssef under-reported his income for several years and now owes $17,000 for that time period.

Grimm, who unlike Youssef has served in elected office before (Franklin's school board), has picked up the backing of Sen. John McCain, whom Grimm worked for when McCain ran for president. Grimm has also been endorsed by Franklin Mayor Ken Merrifield and Merrimack County Sheriff Scott Hilliard.

• Two Republicans are vying to replace retiring Sen. Jack Barnes, a Raymond Republican, in the District 17 race.

Conservative Rep. John Reagan, a Deerfield Republican serving his third term in the House, is running Loudon farmer Howard Pearl, who is more moderate.

Reagan has said he's seeking a Senate seat to bridge the gap between the two chambers and further his goal of reducing the scope and size of government. Pearl joined the race because he believes state government needs the voices of business leaders. He describes himself as a conservative who is willing to listen to other people's opinions.

Reagan would like to eliminate the state Department of Education and leave education to local control. He supported the 50 percent cut in funding to the state university system. Pearl has said the cut seemed drastic but after talking with university officials, Pearl said he felt the schools had weathered the budget cut.

Both candidates support right-to-work legislation. Asked about public assistance, Reagan said he doesn't think the state should provide welfare or disability benefits at the expense of taxpayers. Pearl said he is concerned about welfare fraud but believes only a small percentage of people abuse the system.

The two differ on a repeal of gay marriage. Reagan voted against the repeal and believes the government needs to stop "interfering" with people's lives. Pearl said he would consider a repeal of gay marriage but would want to know first that "we're not creating more issues than we're fixing."

• In the District 9 seat, which includes parts of Cheshire and Hillsborough counties, Sen. Andy Sanborn, formerly of Henniker, is trying to hold onto a seat in the Senate. He is being challenged by Rep. Ken Hawkins, who has served 10 years in the House, and Michael Kenney, who describes himself as a "moderate Tea Party Republican."

All three are from Bedford. Sanborn moved to Bedford this year, just before the legislative session ended.

Sanborn is touting his experience as a small business owner. He owns The Draft sports bar and restaurant in Concord. Hawkins is selling his experience as a long-time representative of the district and his efforts in the House to reform the state pension system.

On his website, Kenney said he supports the Tea Party agenda of lowering taxes but believes "ultra-right wing ideology" has made it impossible for both parties to work together. He has been endorsed by the State Employees Association.

The contest between Hawkins and Sanborn has been a bitter one.

A Bedford resident complained to the state attorney general's office about a campaign telephone poll from Hawkins that was critical of Sanborn. Sanborn called such push polls a "dirty way" to get elected.

Then, Hawkins complained to state officials about campaign fliers criticizing him and backing Sanborn. Hawkins alleged both fliers were paid for by political action committees, one of which isn't registered with the state, he said. The other committee is registered, but not for political campaigning, according to Hawkins.

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


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