GOP Still Sees Hodes as a Juicy Target

Posted July 14, 2008 at 6:26pm

Often neglected, New Hampshire’s 2nd district Congressional race might be the middle child of Granite State politics this cycle.

With a top-tier Senate race, a competitive presidential contest and two targeted House races on tap, it’s difficult to get attention — or television airtime — in the state.

Which means that freshman Rep. Paul Hodes (D), who represents the more Democratic of the state’s two House districts, could be facing an easier race than his Congressional counterparts. While Republicans speak boldly of targeting Hodes this cycle, he isn’t nearly as endangered so far as Sen. John Sununu (R) or Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D), who are considered two of the most vulnerable incumbents in Congress.

What’s more, a crowded field in a late Republican primary might also boost Hodes’ re-election prospects.

Four serious candidates, radio host Jennifer Horn, state Sen. Bob Clegg, attorney Jim Steiner and Grant Bosse, a former aide to Sununu, have all filed for the GOP primary.

Of the five Republicans running, Republican insiders see Clegg and Horn as the most competitive. However the late Sept. 9 primary — just eight weeks before the general election — works against all of them.

“It certainly does not favor us, but it’s not an obstacle that can’t be overcome,” Horn campaign manager David Chesley said.

The result of the late primary, Chesley said, is that the candidates must wage both a primary and general election campaign simultaneously. Instead of striking differences between themselves and other Republicans in the primary, it seems the GOP candidates have set their sights on Hodes instead.

“I think that if you’re not running now to beat Paul Hodes, you’re only going to have a very short time to run against him,” Chesley said.

Clegg concurred that the late primary is a disadvantage for Republicans but disputes the fact that other races in the state are taking the spotlight away from the 2nd district.

“The 1st district is a lot easier because Carol Shea-Porter has been more vocal in the things she’s done,” Clegg said. “But if you take a good look at Carol Shea-Porter’s votes and Paul Hodes voters … there’s no difference between the two.”

Hodes campaign aides anticipate negative campaigning from now until November, even though they do not know who their general election opponent will be until September.

“We expect that our eventual opponent will run a very negative campaign — and all of the candidates in the Republican primary have already been attacking Congressman Hodes,” Hodes campaign manager David Kieve said. “This fall, we expect those attacks to intensify and we plan on being prepared for them.”

But given the other competitive races in New Hampshire this fall, television advertisement buys will be expensive in November. Hodes’ campaign anticipates buying advertisements in all of the media markets in the district, including the pricey Boston area.

That kind of large-scale spending might be a problem for whoever emerges from the GOP primary. So far, no Republican has separated him or herself from the pack on the fundraising front.

Hodes outraised all of this GOP opponents combined in the second quarter of the year, taking in $250,000 from April 1 until June 30. Republicans say that is not impressive for a Democratic incumbent in a targeted district, especially given Hodes is also in the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s “Frontline” program, which helps vulnerable freshmen with extra fundraising and campaign support.

But Hodes’ second-quarter fundraising is still more than Clegg, Horn and Bosse have raised combined. Clegg’s campaign raised $60,000 this quarter and finished June with $156,000 in his coffers, including about $100,000 of his own funds that he put into his campaign earlier this year.

Horn raised a little more than that, about $70,000, according to her campaign manager. And Bosse said he plans to report he raised between $15,000 and $20,000 for the quarter.

Hodes also has $980,000 in cash on hand.

Bosse said that even though there are other competitive races in the state, he still sees the district as winnable for Republicans.

“It’s 4 or 5 more points Democratic than the 1st district,” Bosse conceded. “That’s no question.”

Despite a huge Democratic wave in New Hampshire in 2006, Bosse, like other Republicans, including Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, hope that the fabled independence of Granite State voters will aid their campaigns.

“I think they’re both very winnable for Republicans. I think they’re both very winnable for Democrats,” Bosse said of the 1st and 2nd districts. “New Hampshire is a very independent state.”