In N.H. congressional races, Kuster, Sullivan, big leaders in campaign cash battle

  • Democratic candidates in New Hampshire’s 1st Congressional District speak about issues at a recent forum. Paul Steinhauser / For the Monitor

  • Second Congressional District GOP candidates Lynne Blankenbeker (left) and state Rep. Steve Negron (right) talk with 1st Congressional District GOP candidate Eddie Edwards (center) at the annual New Hampshire Federation of Republican Women annual Lilac Luncheon, held in Manchester in May 2018. Paul Steinhauser / For the Monitor

For the Monitor
Thursday, July 19, 2018

With less than four months to go until Election Day, Democratic Rep. Annie Kuster keeps raking in campaign cash and remains far ahead of her Republican challengers in New Hampshire’s 2nd Congressional District.

Meanwhile, in the wide-open battle in the 1st District to succeed retiring Democratic Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, the margins are closer, but not by much. Democrat Maura Sullivan brought in more than $600,000 in the second fundraising quarter of the year, and she continues to outpace the large field of Democratic and GOP candidates when it comes to campaign cash.

Fundraising is an important barometer of a campaign’s strength, as the cash can be used by a candidate to pay for staff, voter outreach and ads.

“The value of the money obviously is what you can do with it,” New England College political science professor Wayne Lesperance said.

Sunday was the filing deadline for candidates in New Hampshire’s two congressional districts to hand in their fundraising numbers to the Federal Election Commission.

Kuster, the Hopkinton Democrat who’s running for a fourth two-year term in Congress, reported raising $475,000 for the April-June period, bringing her total in the 2018 election cycle to more than $2.5 million. She had $2.8 million cash on hand as of the end of June.

Among her main Republican challengers, Lynne Blankenbeker raised $50,000 in the second quarter. The former state representative from Concord who spent three decades as a combat nurse in the military had $40,000 in her campaign’s bank account.

State Rep. Steve Negron, a Nashua businessman and Air Force veteran, donated more than $11,000 of his own money to his campaign, and he loaned his campaign $100,000. He had just over $106,000 cash on hand.

Dr. Stewart Levenson of Hopkinton, a former regional director at Veterans Affairs and one of the whistleblowers at the Manchester VA facility, contributed $100,000 to his campaign and ended the second quarter with nearly $290,000 in the bank.

Former Hillsborough County treasurer Bob Burns of Bedford, who jumped into the race in early June, raised $15,000 and reported $3,700 cash on hand.

Kuster’s fundraising haul was the fifth straight quarter that she’s brought in more than $400,000.

The congresswoman brought in more than $3 million in her 2016 re-election. But while she greatly outraised and outspent her GOP challenger, former state representative Jim Lawrence, her 5-point election victory was smaller than expected.

Lesperance predicted another close race.

“What it all comes down to is ‘Has Annie Kuster done something that warrants her being fired?’ ” he said. “Are folks frustrated enough with her that they think there should be a change? And that’s the real central question. I’m not sure that any amount of money helps you make that case or insulates you from that case.”

With the GOP mostly playing defense across the country as it try to hold on their majority in the House of Representatives, the 2nd District Republican candidate who ends up winning the Sept. 11 primary may not see much financial help from the national party committees or outside groups during the two-month general election campaign.

With so many competitive races this year, resources are limited, GOP consultant Ryan Williams told the Monitor.

“The national committees and outside groups will invest in the better of the two opportunities in New Hampshire. That will likely mean that any outside money would be spent in the 1st Congressional District, given that it is a toss-up district, whereas the 2nd Congressional District leans toward Democrats,” said Williams, a former top adviser for the New Hampshire GOP.

“If any race in any district looks competitive heading into the final few weeks, the national committees tend to shift around money and put resources where they could make the most impact,” he said.

Fundraising fight

Sullivan raised another eye-popping amount in the second quarter, bringing her total since launching last autumn to just over $1.5 million.

A Portsmouth Democrat who served in the U.S. Marines and was deployed in Iraq and later worked at Veterans Affairs and the Pentagon under President Barack Obama, Sullivan has slightly more than $1 million cash on hand.

Executive Councilor Chris Pappas of Manchester had another solid quarter of fundraising, hauling in just over $240,000 with more than $440,000 in his campaign’s bank account.

First-term state Rep. Mark Mackenzie of Manchester raised less than $18,000, but the former fireman who went on to serve more than two decades as the head of the state chapter of the AFL-CIO still reported nearly $108,000 cash on hand.

Portsmouth native Deaglan McEachern, a technology executive and community activist, raised around $80,000 and reported just over $67,000 in the bank.

Naomi Andrews, who stepped down in early May as Shea-Porter’s chief of staff to run for Congress, brought in more than $64,000 and finished with just over $48,000 cash on hand.

Lincoln Soldati, a retired trial lawyer from Portsmouth, served 17 years as Strafford County attorney and is also a former Somersworth mayor. Soldati raised nearly $32,000 and reported $42,800 cash in the bank.

State Rep. Mindi Messer, an environmental scientist from Rye, brought in just over $38,000 and reported just over 19,000 in her campaign bank account.

Levi Sanders, the son of Bernie Sanders and a longtime legal services analyst who lives in Claremont, raised just under $16,000 and reported $27,400 cash on hand.

None of the three other Democrats running in the 1st District raised more than $10,000.

Sullivan, an Illinois native, moved to New Hampshire last summer and has faced criticism of being a carpetbagger since launching her campaign. She’s also come under attack from many of her Democratic rivals for raising most of her money from outside of New Hampshire.

Lesperance said he doesn’t think that strategy will hurt Sullivan.

“I don’t think that changes voters’ minds, especially at this point in a campaign cycle where folks aren’t really paying that much attention,” he said. “The only folks who do care are insiders, and they’ve probably already made up their mind already.”

Two of the six candidates running for the GOP nomination in the 1st District pumped a bunch of their own money into their campaigns.

State Sen. Andy Sanborn of Bedford, a businessman who owns a sports pub in Concord, loaned his campaign $200,000, bringing his total loans to more than $500,000 since launching a year ago. Sanborn reported just over $714,000 cash on hand.

Eddie Edwards, the third of the major GOP candidates in the race, hauled in more than $206,000 in the second quarter. The Dover resident and Navy veteran who served as the top law enforcement officer for the state’s liquor commission reported just over $215,000 in the bank.

Bruce Crochetiere, the technology executive and first-time candidate from Hampton Falls who jumped into the race at the beginning of May, dropped out this week. Before ending his bid, he contributed $250,000 of his own money. He reported more than $230,000 in his campaign’s bank account.

Lesperance said that campaign cash could be an important factor in the jam-packed Democratic field and the competitive Republican field in the 1st District.

“In a very crowded race like the 1st CD primary, your ability to get name recognition out through putting a staff together through spending, that’s the real advantage that comes from being able to raise a lot of money,” he said.