By Jim Ellis
Sept. 16, 2016 — After two very close New Hampshire Republican primaries were left with remaining votes to count, both received closure.
In the 1st Congressional District, Rep. Frank Guinta (R-Manchester) barely survived his re-nomination challenge. He recorded a 46-45 percent, 649-vote victory over businessman Rich Ashooh. Since the latter man conceded the race, there will be no re-count and Guinta advances to the general election to again face former Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-East Rochester) and three independent and minor party candidates.
This will be the fourth consecutive campaign between the two political principals. Guinta defeated Shea-Porter in 2010 and 2014, while she won in 2012. NH-1 has defeated more incumbents during the last 10 years than any congressional district in the country. The 2016 version promises to again be a difficult general election campaign, albeit a shortened one considering the lateness of the New Hampshire primary. Guinta’s 46 percent showing within his own party is clearly a sign of major political weakness, which does not bode well for him in the general election.
The NH-1 campaign must be viewed as a toss-up race. It would be rated as “lean Democratic”, but Shea-Porter has proven herself every bit as weak as Rep. Guinta. Therefore, her November victory is no foregone conclusion.
The presence of three independent and minor party candidates could have a major effect upon the final outcome, and may even be a deciding factor. This is particularly true if wealthy businessman Shawn O’Connor decides to fully contest the race.
Early in the cycle, O’Connor announced against Shea-Porter in the Democratic primary and funded his budding political effort with a $500,000 personal loan. Later, he backed away from a primary challenge, instead deciding to move into the general election as an Independent. At that point, he withdrew most of the money. In this configuration, where voters may be looking for an alternative to two weak major party nominees who the electorate has both elected and defeated several times, the environment might be right for an Independent to emerge.
Should O’Connor re-invest in the race and become a viable contender, two probable scenarios portend him potentially winning or the throwing the race to the current incumbent. Because O’Connor will be campaigning from the left, his action will draw from Shea-Porter, which could inadvertently help Guinta.
Complicating this scenario, however, is the presence of Libertarian candidate Rob Lombardo. Though he will not be an active campaigner, the presence of a candidate on the Libertarian Party ballot line may give many Ashooh voters a different option, too. His candidacy will draw from Guinta, which makes the final outcome even more difficult to forecast.
A third Independent, former Seabrook Selectman Brendan Kelly, is also on the ballot. He is a former Libertarian Party state chairman, but does not have the party label for this race. He will be a minor figure, since most of the disaffected Guinta vote would likely go to the official Libertarian candidate.
Just when this wild primary ends, an even more unpredictable eastern New Hampshire general election now begins.
In the open governor’s race, Executive Councilor Chris Sununu hung onto his tenuous Tuesday night lead. He clinched a razor-thin 31-30-21-18 percent Republican primary victory over state Rep. Frank Edelblut, Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas, and state Sen. Jeanie Forrester.
Sununu now faces fellow Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern, who easily won the Democratic primary. New Hampshire is one of only two states that still limits its governor to a two-year term. Democrats have won nine of the last 10 gubernatorial campaigns, and begin this general election effort in the favorite’s position.