Familiar foes eye 4th race in New Hampshire House district

AP News
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Posted: Aug 13, 2015 6:16 PM

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — When voters in New Hampshire's 1st Congressional District take a look at their ballots in November 2016, it could be deja vu all over again, and again and again.

Democrat Carol Shea-Porter filed paperwork this week to run for the seat she lost in 2014 to Republican Rep. Frank Guinta, who plans to seek re-election. The race could mark a fourth consecutive matchup between the two — if Guinta can make it through a GOP primary.

For months, he has been dogged by findings from the Federal Election Commission that he accepted $355,000 in illegal contributions from his parents during his 2010 campaign. The incident led top state Republicans to call for Guinta's resignation and several in the GOP are eager to take him on.

"I expect there will be a spirited primary with two or more candidates, and how Frank handled the contribution issue will be a major issue in the primary," said Steve Duprey, a New Hampshire member of the Republican National Committee.

Shea-Porter's office says she'll run in a special election if Guinta resigns, although he has no plans to do so. The paperwork she filed allows her to run next fall, too. She was first elected to the seat in 2006 and lost it to Guinta in 2010 before winning it back in 2012. Guinta again bested her in 2014. The district covers Manchester, the Seacoast and the Lakes Region.

Staff for Guinta and Shea-Porter did not make either available for interviews.

Winning the primary will be no easy task for Guinta in a decidedly inhospitable environment. He signed an agreement with the FEC in May to return the $355,000 to his parents and pay a $15,000 fine. The origins of the money have plagued Guinta for years, and he still maintains that it was rightfully his because it came from a family pot of money to which he contributed. Republicans such as U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte have said he should resign, and Democrats contend that he stole the 2010 race.

He's largely kept his head down since the FEC findings, focusing on work in his district and ignoring calls to step down.

At least two Republicans are seriously exploring primary bids. One of them is Dan Innis, the former dean of the University of New Hampshire's business school who lost by eight percentage points to Guinta in 2014. Innis was well regarded the first time around and said he's being encouraged to take another shot by people who backed him last time and some former Guinta supporters.

"What you're seeing is a frustration with the status quo in Washington, the same old people going down there," Innis said. "I think the situation has caused a lot of voters to take a second look."

State Rep. Pam Tucker is also considering a run.

A fresh face in the general election would give Republicans an opportunity to avoid rehashing the campaign finance issue. But for Democrats and Shea-Porter, a fourth face-off may not be a bad thing.

"The best opponent she can get is Frank Guinta," said Wayne Lesperance, a political science professor at New England College.

Should Guinta make it through the primary, Shea-Porter would have built-in advantages. Turnout has favored Democrats in the past two presidential election cycles, when voter turnout in the district was nearly one-third higher than in off years. More than 345,000 voters came out in 2008 and 2012, when Shea-Porter won. In contrast, fewer than 250,000 people voted in 2010 and 2014, years Guinta won.

Voter fatigue with dynastic politics is already brewing nationally over the possibility of a potential Clinton-Bush presidential campaign, but people in this New Hampshire swing district have been there before.

"You've got to imagine there would also be backlash to a Shea-Porter-Guinta race again," Lesperance said.