Shea-Porter says she won’t seek re-election to N.H congressional seat

  • Carol Shea-Porter at Monitor ed board on Monday, October 27, 2014

  • Former congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter speaks during a Hillary Clinton campaign rally at Whittemore Center Arena at the University of New Hampshire in Durham on Monday, Nov. 7, 2016, the day before Election Day. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) ELIZABETH FRANTZ

For the Monitor
Published: 10/6/2017 1:15:21 PM

U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter announced Friday that she won’t run for re-election next year for a fifth term in Congress.

The Democrat in New Hampshire’s First Congressional District wrote in a statement that “the time has come in my life to pause and decide on a different path.”

Shea-Porter often marches to the beat of her own drum, and her shocking announcement was no different. The news seemed to take much of the state’s Democratic establishment and the news media by surprise.

Kathy Sullivan, one of New Hampshire’s two Democratic National Committee members and a former state party chairwoman, told the Monitor it was a “total surprise.”

Her decision is full of national implications. The First District is one of the most high-profile and closely-watched swing congressional districts in the country. And as the Democrats try to win the 24 seats needed next year to reclaim the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, Shea-Porter is one of the few members of the party to have won last year in a district that was carried by President Donald Trump.

Shea-Porter is a New York City native who grew up in the Seacoast. She was a community activist when she decided to make a run for Congress. The first-time candidate came out of nowhere, and with little money and no support from the Democratic establishment, went to win the party’s nomination. She then defeated incumbent Republican Congressman Jeb Bradley in the 2006 general election. She made history along the way, becoming the first New Hampshire woman to be elected to Congress.

Shea-Porter, who lives in Rochester, defeated Bradley again in the 2008 re-match, but lost the seat to her GOP challenger, former Manchester Mayor Frank Guinta, in the 2010 election. Shea-Porter returned the favor in 2012, defeating Guinta, but he ousted her again from the House in the 2014 election. The two candidates faced off for an historic fourth straight time last November, with Shea-Porter narrowly edging Guinta to return to Washington.

Shea-Porter, 64, called her decision not to run “very difficult,” and she said family concerns were a factor in the decision.

“I felt the tug of family at our reunion on Independence Day, and I have continued to feel it. My family has said repeatedly that they would support any decision I made, and I am grateful to them for that and for all of their love and support through the years,” she wrote.

New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley quickly praised Shea-Porter, saying in a statement that she “served the Granite State with great distinction.”

“While we are saddened by your departure, we know your leadership will have paved the way for another great New Hampshire leader to follow in your footsteps,” added Buckley, who was not available to comment in greater detail.

Former governor and now U.S Sen. Maggie Hassan also praised her colleague in the all-Democrat, all-female, four-person New Hampshire congressional delegation.

“Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter has been a fierce advocate for the people of the first congressional district, and it has been an honor to serve alongside her. New Hampshire is a stronger state because of her tireless work,” Hassan said.

State Democratic Party Executive Director Amy Kennedy told the Monitor that “Congresswoman Shea-Porter has always been competitive in the First District.”

And pointing to a series of recent state legislative special election victories, Kennedy said “we’re confident of our chances.”

“We’re looking forward to retaining both of our seats as we take back the majority in 2018,” she added.

With Shea-Porter bowing out of the 2018 campaign, speculation immediately centered on Executive Councilor Chris Pappas, who a number of political operatives say would clear the Democratic field if he launched a bid to succeed the congresswoman.

Sources close to Pappas said his phone’s been ringing off the hook since Shea-Porter’s announcement, from in-state Democratic activists calling to gauge his interest in running for Congress.

Those same sources, who asked to remain anonymous to speak more freely, said Pappas is seriously considering a bid, just as he did early in the 2016 cycle before Shea-Porter decided to run for her old seat.

A couple of top Democratic consultants in the state, who also asked for anonymity, said that if the 37-year old Pappas enters the race, he would dissuade many other potential candidates from running.

“He’s the elephant in the room,” one strategist said.

Another added that “it’s been a while since a Manchester-based Democrat ran for the seat.”

If Pappas, who runs the family-owned famed Puritan Backroom restaurant, doesn’t jump into the race for Congress, there’s speculation another Manchester Democrat, state Sen. Donna Soucy, might launch a campaign.

Democratic strategists also point towards possible candidacies from former state House of Representatives Speaker Teri Norelli and former Portsmouth city councilor Stefany Shaheen, who is the daughter of U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.

And state Rep. Mark Mackenzie of Manchester, a former longtime head of the state AFL-CIO, is also mulling a bid.

Republicans were quick to pounce on Shea-Porter’s news.

“Yet another Democrat in a district President Trump won is abandoning their seat,” said Matt Gorman, communications director for the National Republican Congressional Committee, which is dedicated to electing Republicans.

“This was already a top pick-up opportunity even before Rep. Shea-Porter’s announcement, and we are confident we will turn this district red once again.”

New Hampshire GOP Chair Jeanie Forrester criticized Shea-Porter, writing that “the news today from Representative Shea-Porter, following her record of obstructing all meaningful reform in Washington since the election, is welcome news for Granite Staters who have grown tired of her ineffective leadership.”

And Forrester, who used Shea-Porter’s announcement to launch a fundraising pitch for the NHGOP, added that “New Hampshire has a fantastic opportunity to replace her with a Republican representative.”

But the two Republican candidates running in the First District were a bit kinder to Shea-Porter.

State Sen. Andy Sanborn of Bedford wrote, “I would like to thank Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter for her years of public service. While we had differences of opinion about the future of our county there is no doubt that in her years of service she always did what she thought was best for the people of New Hampshire.”

The other declared GOP candidate in the race, Dover resident and former state liquor commission enforcement and licensing director and South Hampton police Chief Eddie Edwards, said “I wish Representative Shea-Porter well in her future endeavors.”

Shea-Porter’s announcement may spur more Republicans to enter the race. Former state GOP vice chairman Matt Mayberry has been seriously considering a run, and there’s speculation he might launch a campaign in the next month or two.

Former gubernatorial and congressional candidate John Stevens, who also served as the state’s commissioner of Health and Human Services for five years, was seriously mulling a bid, but announced this week that he would not run for office in 2018.

(“Monitor” State House reporter Ethan DeWitt contributed to this report.)

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