Capital Beat: Who’s that on my primary ballot?

  • Former Republican presidential candidate and Ohio Gov. John Kasich (left) endorses Chris Sununu (right) for New Hampshire governor during a news conference in Concord on Monday. Jim Cole / AP

Monitor staff
Published: 9/4/2016 12:11:21 AM

There’s barely a week left until the state primary and voters still are unfamiliar with the candidates.

That’s the word from a WMUR Granite State Poll released last week that shows most voters don’t know who is competing for governor. 

The poll found at least 70 percent of residents don’t know enough about the three Democrats in the race to form an opinion. 

Two of the Republican candidates fare better than the rest. Executive Councilor Chris Sununu is known by nearly 70 percent of the electorate. Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas isn’t far behind. But political scientists chalk that up to fact that Sununu has one of the most familiar last names in New Hampshire politics and Gatsas leads the state’s largest city. 

It means the race is still wide open. Voter turn out will be key to any candidate’s success on Tuesday. 

While New Hampshire’s presidential primary typically draws attention and voters, few people show up at the polls for state primary races, said Andy Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center.

Republicans get a natural boost in turn-out because the GOP has so many high-profile contested races this year. Incumbent U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte is facing a challenge in former state Sen. Jim Rubens. Embattled Congressman Frank Guinta is competing against Republican Rich Ashooh. A handful of state representatives are running in the second Congressional district for the chance to go up against Democrat Annie Kuster in November.

The Dems have few contested primary races that will draw voters to the polls. Maggie Hassan is running unopposed in the party for U.S. Senate. Similarly, Annie Kuster and Carol Shea-Porter are the only Democrats seeking the state’s two Congressional seats. 

Candidates for governor still have more opportunities to reach voters. On Tuesday, the Republican and Democrat gubernatorial debates will be televised on WMUR at 7 p.m. and 8 p.m., respectively.

If history is a guide, Sununu will likely be a target in the GOP match-up. In an NH1 debate last week, Republican state Sen. Jeanie Forrester and Gatsas went after Sununu for saying that no one has led at the state or local level on the opioid crisis.

All three Democrats will appear at the debate, despite an indication last week businessman Mark Connolly would skip out over an ongoing labor dispute at the television station. He announced Saturday that members of the union and WMUR have made progress, and the picket line has been suspended. 

While candidates have largely been introducing themselves to voters, expect more attacks in the last week. Gatsas went up with the race’s first attack last week, labeling Sununu as weak on education and social issues. Some candidates have far deeper pockets than others, and will be able to spend more on ads and get out the vote efforts in the final days. Democrat Colin Van Ostern has posted high fundraising numbers, while Democrat Steve Marchand has largely blown through his campaign cash. Republican Frank Edelblut who has largely self-funded his campaign, had the most cash on hand at last report, with nearly $660,000. 

There may only be little more than a week, but anything can happen, political watchers say. 

“It’s very difficult to figure out who is going to win,” Smith said. “Voters make up their mind at the very end.”

Weekend debut 

The public may be able to visit the State House on Saturday, starting this month. The Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce is seeking approval to open the historic building to visitors on Sept. 24 and Oct. 1 and 8. The three days would serve as a pilot program. The Chamber hopes to open the State House to visitors on Saturdays throughout the entire summer next year, pitching it as a tourist draw.  

“This will help us get confident and comfortable that we can do this logistically,” said chamber president Tim Sink. 

The chamber would fund the weekend openings – which cost roughly $1,000 a day – using money raised from the business community, Sink said. Tours would run every 20 minutes, he said, and the building gift shop would be open. 

The plan comes up for a vote before the Joint Committee on Legislative Facilities on Tuesday. 

Kasich’s back 

John Kasich waded into the state primary last week, endorsing Republican Chris Sununu at the Legislative Office Building in Concord. The former presidential candidate then promptly stole the spotlight.

Following the announcement, the Ohio governor toured downtown Exeter with Sununu and his posse in tow. Inside a bookstore he didn’t much discuss Sununu’s candidacy. Instead he looked at the latest Harry Potter book and pondered why British actor Daniel Radcliffe is an atheist. Then he wondered aloud which Olympians would find success after the recent Rio games. 

“You know that Daniel Radcliffe has declared himself an atheist?” Kasich said to no one in particular. “I’m serious. What a weird thing. Why would a guy who has had all that success just, I mean, what the hell is wrong with him?”

Kasich quickly changed gears. “It’s going to be interesting to see who is going to make it big from the Olympics,” he said, wondering aloud whether it would be U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps or Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt.

The bookstore owner asked to change the subject, and then thanked Kasich for “pointing out the shortcomings” of the Republican presidential nominee. Kasich has refused to back businessman Donald Trump’s candidacy since dropping out of the race himself. 

Push back

Recovery coach Dennis Dutra is defending his decision to appear in a GOP political attack ad that criticizes Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan over her response to the opioid crisis. 

"People are dying everyday and it's important for people to speak up, despite critics' opinions,” he said in a Facebook message, adding that people often have to wait weeks before getting into treatment.

Hassan is seeking to unseat Republican incumbent U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte. The ad was funded by the National Republican Senatorial Committee and is similar to that featuring Melissa Crews, who resigned from the Hope for New Hampshire Recovery board last week. She was criticized by some fellow board members for appearing in the television spot, which blamed Hassan for the state’s rising drug deaths. 

Dutra pushed back. “If we are not popular and we can help save a life, then I'm willing to pay that price,” he said. 

Dutra moved to New Hampshire from Rhode Island and previously worked at Hope. He said he is a Certified Recovery Support Worker. 

(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or 

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