By Jim EllisOct. 10, 2017 — Since Pennsylvania Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Hazelton) announced he would run for the US Senate in late August, and after an additional eight US House seats opened in the succeeding weeks, none were as surprising as the latest one announced on Friday.
New Hampshire Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (R-Rochester), who represents the one seat that has defeated more incumbents than any other in the last decade including herself twice, announced that she will not seek re-election in 2018.
Her departure reasons were not part of the retirement statement but, for a woman who first came to Congress in 2006, was defeated in 2010, returned in 2012, and then lost again in 2014 before winning once more last November, her voluntary departure was certainly not predicted. Shea-Porter claimed another term in 2016, but with only 44 percent of the vote in part due to three Independent and minor party candidates taking more than 12.6 percent, but the number represented her lowest victory percentage.
Since the 2006 election, inclusive, the NH-1 electorate has consistently defeated its incumbent. In only 2008 was a US representative (Shea-Porter) here re-elected. The district encompasses New Hampshire’s eastern half, including the state’s largest city of Manchester, the Seacoast region, and the mountain area that hugs the Maine border. In the past six elections, the largest recorded win percentage was 54 percent (Republican Frank Guinta in 2010), while Shea-Porter never exceeded 51.7 percent.
Part of her reason for retiring could be again reining at the top of the GOP target list. This time, after twice losing as an incumbent (2010, 2014), she would be faced with attempting to expand her base within an electorate where 56 percent chose another candidate in the last election. In all, Rep. Shea-Porter won the 1st District four times and lost it twice. New Hampshire is now the quintessential swing state in contemporary American electoral politics, and both parties are susceptible of being swept in or out of offices from the top of the ballot to the bottom in any current election.
During the last four campaigns, Shea-Porter and former Rep. Frank Guinta (R-Manchester) have squared off each time, with both individuals winning twice. There is no indication Guinta will run next year, so it was a virtual certainty that Rep. Shea-Porter would have faced a new opponent in 2018. Prior to her retirement announcement, state Sen. Andy Sanborn (R-Bedford), former South Hampton Police Chief Eddie Edwards, and judicial reform activist Andy Martin had announced their candidacies, and we can count on several more joining the fray now that the seat is open.
Shea-Porter deciding not to seek re-election means there are 31 open US House seats slated for the 2018 regular or a late special election, including the UT-3 special to be be decided on Nov. 7. Two-thirds of the newly open districts are Republican held, but most are safe. In fact, of the four open seats that we currently rate as toss-ups, three are Democratic seats: MN-1 (Rep. Tim Walz – running for governor), NV-3 (Rep. Jacky Rosen – running for Senate), and NH-1. The lone Republican open toss-up comes from South Florida, where Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Miami) is retiring.
While Shea-Porter’s retirement decision does not change the district’s competitive rating, and we can count on a very hotly contested race here all through next year, the congresswoman’s unexpected announcement certainly changes the race dynamics. More will soon be known about her motivation for not seeking re-election after working so hard in multiple campaigns to return to the House. But, her move means we will see a pair of new major party nominees here for the first time in five elections. This campaign is expected to remain in toss-up status until decided in November of 2018.