With Shea-Porter out, N.H.’s 1st Congressional District could become free-for-all

  • State Rep. Mark MacKenzie speaks against The New Hampshire Right to Work Act during a Senate Commerce Committee public hearing at the State House in Concord on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017. MacKenzie is a former president of the New Hampshire AFL-CIO. Many opponents of the bill wore red shirts to the hearing. Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor file

  • New Hampshire Executive Councilor Chris Pappas, a Manchester Democrat, sits at the Puritan Backroom restaurant. Paul Steinhauser​ / For the Monitor

For the Monitor
Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Just days after U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter’s surprise announcement that she won’t run for re-election in New Hampshire’s 1st Congressional District, two Democrats who are seriously considering bids are taking concrete steps toward launching campaigns.

State Rep. Mark MacKenzie, who served 25 years as president of the New Hampshire AFL-CIO, announced on Tuesday that he’ll set up an exploratory committee by the end of the week.

And hours after announcing he’s “actively exploring” a run for Congress, three-term Executive Councilor Chris Pappas sounded more and more like a candidate, saying that if he decides to run, he’ll “want to get in as quickly as possible.”

MacKenzie, a former Manchester firefighter, is in his first term in the New Hampshire House, representing Manchester’s Ward 10.

“I’ll have an exploratory committee up and running by the end of the week,” he said. “And that will give me an opportunity to kind of start the process of moving around and talking to people.”

Exploratory committees, which have been around for decades, allow potential candidates to test the waters, hire staff and begin fundraising while they consider an official candidacy.

“I think this represents an opportunity that I didn’t expect and I don’t think anybody else expected, quite frankly,” MacKenzie said of Friday’s shocker from Shea-Porter, the Democrat from Rochester.

“I’m very seriously looking at this and looking at my capacity to mount a campaign that’s going to be credible and well-funded and well-organized,” MacKenzie explained.

Asked about a potential candidacy from Pappas, MacKenzie said, “He’s a great guy and I welcome him or anybody else who wants to get into this race. I think primary campaigns are a terrific way to hone your skills, and if they want to get in, let’s do it.”

If he does run, MacKenzie would likely grab support from organized labor.

“I would look to labor, which I was proud to represent for a long period of time, to coalesce around this potential campaign,” he said.

But he said he hopes to expand upon that base.

“I have a history with working with a whole lot of different people, and a lot of people know me,” he said. “It’s not only labor, but it’s reaching out beyond labor to those constituencies that I’ve worked with, and hopefully they see some value in my potential run for Congress.”

MacKenzie was a member of Sen. Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential steering committee in the Granite State.

While MacKenzie said he hasn’t yet had a chance to talk with the Vermont senator, he plans to seek Sanders’s endorsement if his candidacy becomes official.

Pappas getting ‘a great response’

Pappas discussed his interest in running for Shea-Porter’s seat on Tuesday at the Puritan Backroom, the famed Manchester restaurant that his family has owned and operated for a century.

“I’ve been getting a great response from people – friends that I know in my council district and people from other parts of the 1st District that are urging me to take a look at this,” he said less than 24 hours after announcing on social media that he was seriously exploring a bid for Congress. “And that’s given me a lot of encouragement.”

However, he said concerns over who would take over the Puritan if he ends up running for Congress are part of his decision, which he called “one of the biggest decisions that I’ve had to make in my life.”

“That’s part of the reason why I’m taking some time to think about this over the next few weeks,” he said. “I’ve got some due diligence to do to make sure that I can take care of some of my responsibilities, my business responsibilities, my public service responsibilities to the (Executive) Council.”

While he wouldn’t give a timetable, Pappas explained: “If I’m going to run and mount a campaign, I’ll want to get in as quickly as possible and start actually putting that effort together. If I decide against it, then I want to give other people the opportunity to think about running.”

Pappas seriously considered a bid early in the 2016 cycle before Shea-Porter decided to run for her old seat and leaked emails revealed that some Democrats wanted Pappas to run instead of Shea-Porter.

While top Granite State Democrats praised Shea-Porter for her service following her Friday announcement, there’s speculation some in the party establishment are happy she’s not running for re-election.

“Carol has never fit in,” said one Democratic consultant, who asked to not to be named to speak more freely.

“As much as we’re hearing accolades coming from Democratic Party higher-ups, it’s disingenuous; they were never fans of Carol,” the consultant added. “I think the party now sees this as a chance to take the seat back for the mainstream party folks.”

Others said Shea-Porter, an incumbent, would have given the party a better chance to retain the seat than a newcomer.

Swing district

The First Congressional District is one of the most high-profile and closely watched swing congressional districts in the country. And with no incumbent, the race could end up being a free-for-all contest.

Besides Pappas and MacKenzie, there’s speculation that state Sen. Donna Soucy of Manchester and former Portsmouth city councilor Stefany Shaheen – daughter of U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen – may be mulling bids.

And there’s buzz that Iraq War veteran and Portsmouth businesswoman Maura Sullivan may be interested in running. Sullivan, who worked in the Defense Department under the Obama administration, moved to New Hampshire earlier this year.

Two Republicans launched campaigns well before Shea-Porter’s announcement. They are state Sen. Andy Sanborn of Bedford and Dover resident Eddie Edwards, formerly the state liquor commission enforcement and licensing director and the South Hampton police chief.

Former state GOP vice chairman Matt Mayberry is also considering a run, and there’s speculation he might launch a campaign in the next month or two.