From WMUR to Congress? Josh McElveen considers run against Kuster

  • Josh McElveen

For the Monitor
Thursday, November 30, 2017

Josh McElveen says if he decides to run for Congress, it won’t undermine his legacy as a political reporter.

“I think I was fair,” the former longtime WMUR anchor and political director told the Monitor.

McElveen, who said he’s seriously considering a bid for the GOP nomination in New Hampshire’s 2nd Congressional District to challenge Democrat Annie Kuster, said he needs to make a decision by the end of the year.

McElveen, 47, is a Brookline resident and a native Granite Stater who describes himself as a fiscal conservative who is socially moderate. The U.S. Marine veteran who served in non-combat roles during the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War, he was most recently vice president of communications and marketing for the Dartmouth-Hitchcock health system. He stepped down from the position earlier this month over “philosophical differences.”

Before his brief seven-month tenure in the health care industry, McElveen spent two decades as a radio and TV reporter and anchor in California; New Orleans; Boston; and, starting in 2008, at WMUR.

It’s rare, but not unprecedented for a former New Hampshire journalist to make a run for Congress. What’s more common is journalists leaving the profession to cross over and work for politicians.

McElveen said that if he decides to run for the congressional nomination, it won’t wreck his journalistic record.

“I don’t think it undermines my legacy as a reporter at all,” he said of his consideration of a congressional bid. “Reporters are human. They’re going to have their beliefs. Their mandate, as best as they can, is to report things objectively.”

His potential candidacy as a Republican is interesting, New England College professor of political science Wayne Lesperance said, because it “contradicts the conventional wisdom that journalists are liberals or democrats.”

“Journalists are citizens and as such are subject to the call to service like any other citizen,” Lesperance said. “Some may be concerned that Josh’s coverage of political stories may somehow be affected by his political point of view. But, it is hard to find evidence of this bias in his work.”

McElveen said he considered running as an independent but decided against it.

“I do think you probably need the base of a major party to win. But you also certainly need your independence,” he said.

McElveen won’t be the first former WMUR employee to make a bid for Congress. In 1996, former WMUR news director Jack Heath unsuccessfully ran for the GOP nomination in the 1st District. In a crowded primary for an open seat, Heath came in third behind nominee John E. Sununu (who went on to serve three terms in the House and one in the Senate) and longtime Manchester mayor Raymond Wieczorek.

Nationally, Scott Klug, a former TV anchor from Wisconsin, became a congressman in the 1980s, and Minnesota news anchor Don Shelby has flirted with running, according to Christopher Galdieri, associate professor of politics at Saint Anselm College.

Making the switch from journalist to politician isn’t that much of a problem, Galdieri said, it’s switching back.

“I think the boundary between politics and journalism is such that anybody who crosses it only gets to do it once, in one direction,” Galdieri said. “More than that and you do risk your credibility.”

Thanks to his years on air with WMUR, McElveen enjoys strong statewide name recognition. But he says that name recognition could be a plus as well as a minus.

“Some people say my big advantage is name ID. Well maybe not. Maybe I won’t have the ability to make some mistakes quietly that others might have a chance to make,” he said. “I think there’s benefits and negatives to having the name ID and the background from Channel 9.”

The current GOP field in the race to challenge Kuster doesn’t have similar firepower. The two declared candidates are state Rep. Steve Negron, a U.S. Air Force veteran and businessman from Nashua, and Dr. Stewart Levenson of Hopkinton, a former U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs regional director who earlier this year was one of the top whistleblowers at the Manchester VA Medical Center.

Meanwhile, Jim Lawrence, the 2016 GOP nominee to run against Kuster, said he’s still deciding whether to run again. GOP sources said former state Rep. Lynne Blankenbeker may consider a run once her active duty in the U.S. Navy ends in January.

McElveen said he doesn’t have a timetable but plans to make a decision in the next month or so.

“Have I set a firm date? No. But I understand that the hourglass is not full of endless amounts of time,” he added.

McElveen, who recently remarried and is the father of 13-and 10-year-old daughters, said the support of his family would be a key deciding factor as he mulls a congressional bid.

Fundraising is also an important factor.

Kuster has built up a re-election war chest of around $2 million on hand. And Negron has already kicked in $125,000 of his own money for his campaign for the GOP nomination.

“Fundraising could make this decision on its own,” McElveen said. “If I decide to run, obviously I’m going to have to get busy raising some money. But I’m confident if I can deliver my message well, then hopefully that would inspire some people to get behind the campaign.”

McElveen shared that he’s “talking to a lot of people that I respect both inside and outside of New Hampshire. Those who have the experience of Washington, who know the situation and what the temperature is like down there. If they think my service could be valuable, that’s obviously a key component to making this decision.”

McElveen lamented the partisan gridlock that afflicts Washington.

“My whole goal is to build some bridges, to try to close this gap of divisiveness that no one seems to be able to do,” he said.

While such talk may not be music to the ears of conservative GOP primary voters, McElveen said, “I’m not going to bend what I believe in order to win.”

And if he does run, he doesn’t plan to go on the attack against his GOP rivals or the Democratic incumbent.

“Annie Kuster’s a strong incumbent. She’s well-funded. She’s someone I like. She’s someone I respect,” McElveen said. “I don’t intend to make this about tearing anyone down.”

In an interview with WMUR on Monday, McElveen said his experiences covering and interviewing politicians has convinced him that “they don’t know anything more than the average person.”

“I think that (quote) was taken a little bit too far,” McElveen said. “what I’ve learned over the course of the last ten years is that it takes confidence and a desire to serve, to jump into something like this. I don’t think it takes some magical power or a sixth sense to a certain degree to try and take on a challenge like this.”

“That wasn’t meant to be a slight on anyone who’s run. I certainly respect anyone who’s run and taken that challenge. I think they’re people just like us,” he added.