The emails come almost daily, blasting Democratic Congresswomen Annie Kuster and Carol-Shea Porter and attempting to tie them to everything from sequestration to our nation's economic woes.
“Annie Kuster Votes Against Only Plan to Balance Budget,” reads one.
“BAD VOTE ALERT: Kuster and Shea-Porter put Washington bureaucracy before American workers,” reads another.
No sooner had the dust settled on the 2012 election than the National Republican Congressional Committee started targeting Kuster and Shea-Porter.
The 2014 mid-term elections are still a year and a half away, but already, national and local political organizations are beginning to ramp up their operations.
“It never really ends anymore,” veteran political scientist Dean Spiliotes said of the early start to the 2014 campaign. “Part of that is there’s a sense among candidates increasingly given the level of money and organization you need to run a successful campaign that you can never start too early. It’s no longer considered bad form to look too eager.”
Earlier this month, both the New Hampshire Republican State Committee and the New Hampshire Democratic Party beefed up their operations, with the NHGOP bringing in former Mitt Romney deputy press secretary Ryan Williams as a paid communications consultant, and the NHDP bringing back former staffer Harrell Kirstein as communications director after a stint with the Obama campaign last year.
Some big-name candidates have also begun to surface for New Hampshire’s two seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and the gubernatorial race. All four seats are currently held by Democrats following the blue tide that swept the state in last year’s election.
The only big 2014 race that remains fairly quiet is for U.S. Senate. So far, no one has come forward to express an interest in running against incumbent Jeanne Shaheen, perhaps a testament to how difficult it would be to unseat the popular former governor.
“The fact that no one is out there right now going after Shaheen tells you something,” University of New Hampshire political scientist Dante Scala said. “Arguably, that’s the biggest hill to climb.”
Other than the 1st Congressional District, which he says could go either way, Spiliotes said there are no “structural reasons for believing any of the Democrats are in trouble.” But in mid-term elections, a lot depends on what’s going on nationally.
“The one thing that conservatives have in their favor is that in mid-term elections it’s a lot harder to get that presidential year coalition to turn out," he said. "That’s what happened in 2010.”
“There’s a lot about 2014 we just don’t know,” added Scala. “On the one hand, typically (mid-term elections) are not a good time for the president’s party. Certainly that was true back in ’06 for President Bush and the Republicans. We don’t know what kind of shape the president is going to be in in part because we don’t know what the economy is going to look like a year from now. If the economy picks up steam and New Hampshire voters are feeling more positive about the economy and about their prospects, then it may well be perfectly fine here for Democrats.
Here’s a quick look at the four major races and how they’re shaping up for 2014:
So far, only Executive Councilor Chris Sununu (R-Newfields) has announced that he’s considering running against Gov. Maggie Hassan (D-Exeter) in 2014.
Former Congressman Frank Guinta (R-Manchester) is another possibility, as is Kevin Smith (R-Litchfield), who lost to Ovide Lamontagne in the Republican gubernatorial primary last year. Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas and former Congressman and current state Sen. Jeb Bradley are others seen as possible Republican contenders.
Spiliotes said Sununu might have a shot against Hassan, since it’s her first term and Sununu’s father and former U.S. Senator brother are so well known. But he thinks the younger Sununu would have a better shot running against Shea-Porter in the 1st Congressional District.
“If a Sununu’s going to throw his hat in the ring, I think you’ve got to take that seriously," noted Scala. "Sununus don’t tend to get into races just for fun. His name recognition gives him a big step. Sununu comes in not just with the name, but he’s been on the ballot himself for a good portion of the electorate.”
But historically, both Spiliotes and Scala said, first-term governors are extremely hard to defeat in New Hampshire.
“Two years is such a short time,” Spiliotes said. “Unless Hassan’s first term turned out to be some kind of surprising disaster for her, it’s very hard to defeat a governor here after two years. She’s really just getting started.”
1st Congressional District:
Chris Sununu and Guinta are seen as the primary challengers for Shea-Porter at this point, assuming they don’t run for governor.
“Certainly, the 1st District is almost a pure tossup or pure bellwether district, and it has been for some time,” Scala said. “It’s not surprising that Republicans nationally and locally would be looking for someone to step up.”
“CD-1 is always a big question mark,” added Spiliotes. If someone like Sununu runs, that’d be a pretty interesting race."
Still, Scala said Shea-Porter has been "a pretty durable campaigner," and shouldn't be counted out.
“She’s won three out of the four congressional races in the district," he said. "The only one she lost was 2010, which was awfully difficult for anybody.”
2nd Congressional District:
House Speaker Bill O’Brien has already made public his interest in running against Kuster in the 2nd Congressional District. Former Congressman Charles Bass is seen as unlikely to run again.
“O’Brien’s clearly getting his name out there, and that’s a smart thing to do for him,” Scala said. “It doesn’t necessarily speak to weakness on Kuster’s part. An incumbent running for re-election for the first time is typically in a more vulnerable position.
"I think O’Brien maybe is savvy enough to realize that even though he was Speaker of the House, that doesn’t necessarily make him a household name to voters in the 2nd District. For O’Brien to be getting out there early is recognizing that running for Congress is far above and beyond having a leadership position in Concord. I expect that’s why he’s being so vocal.”
Spiliotes said he thinks that an O'Brien run will be "a hard sell" given the change in demographics in the 2nd Congressional District.
“Kuster’s had some bumps in the road so far – the property tax thing – but still, in all, the demographics of that district I think give her an edge in security over Shea-Porter," said Scala.
Guinta, Bradley and even former U.S. Sen. John Sununu – Chris’s brother – are seen as possible Republican challengers. But Scala said any of them would have a tough time beating Shaheen.
“There’s people out there who could do it, but it’s a formidable task,” he said. “I think Republicans recognize that. The very people who would put up the best challenge are the ones who are going to be the most strategic about taking her on.”
It all depends on the conditions, Scala said. If Obama’s favorability is low and the economy is still struggling, Shaheen could be beatable. Otherwise, he said it’s unlikely she’ll lose.
“Right now where things stand, things look rather good for Shaheen, and I think that explains some of the hesitancy about people throwing their hat in the ring,” Scala said. “They’re hoping to see some vulnerability before they invest all that time raising all that money to go after her. People recognize that’s a tough one to win.”