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John DiStaso's Granite Status: Shaheen on Bass: 'We must take him seriously'

Senior Political Reporter

September 07. 2013 10:53PM

TUESDAY, SEPT. 10. GUINTA MOVING TOWARD NH-01 RUN. Former U.S. Rep. Frank Guinta paid a visit to the National Republican Congressional Committee offices in Washington today as he continues to move toward a third run for the 1st District U.S. House seat.

Guinta told us in July that he would announce his political plans this month, and his former chief of staff and former campaign manager, Ethan Zorfas, said at the time he expects Guinta to run.

Meanwhile, UNH business school dean Dan Innis is exploring a run for the 1st District seat, while Democratic incumbent Rep. Carol Shea-Porter is expected to seek reelection.

The NRCC has backed Guinta in past elections and is expected to target both New Hampshire districts in 2014, viewing both Shea-Porter and fellow Democratic Rep. Annie Kuster as vulnerable.

(Earlier Granite Status reports follow.)

TUESDAY, SEPT. 10. NEW FUND-RAISING PLEA. It didn't take long for the Jeanne Shaheen "machine" to turn news of a possible 2014 Charlie Bass candidacy for the U.S. Senate into a fund-raising tool.

"A former U.S. congressman, Bass is already meeting with Republican Party leaders who are urging him to run against me. He's won federal races seven times in New Hampshire – we must take him seriously," says the latest email plea from Friends of Jeanne Shaheen.

"We're going to be hit with a wave of attacks the moment an announcement's made. Karl Rove and the Republican Super PACs are waiting in the wings...Will you help me?"

Shaheen has already raised more than $3.5 million and had more than $2 million on hand at the end of June.

Sept. 30 closes out the third-quarter fund-raising period.

Bass told the Granite Status last week that he is seriously considering a candidacy for the U.S. Senate next year and that Republicans are urging him to run.

He has not talked about a timetable for his decision.

Republican former state Sen. Jim Rubens is making an announcement on a possible Senate candidacy on Sept. 18 and is expected to run. Conservative Republican activist Karen Testerman is also eyeing a possible run for the Senate seat.

(Earlier Granite Status reports follow.)

TUESDAY, SEPT. 10: COLIN'S NEW DAY JOB. Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern has let constituents and supporters know he has been hired as the Director of Marketing for Southern New Hampshire University's innovative new College for America.

Van Ostern, of Concord, represents council District 2 and had been employed as brands manager at Stonyfield Farms for the past three years.

College for America is SNHU's a competency-based associates degree program recently approved by the U.S. Department of Education. It allows students to receive a degree based on their knowledge of the material rather than through the traditional credits program.

Van Ostern noted in a letter to friends and supporters today, obtained by the Granite Status, that the college was "cited by President Obama last month in his major policy address about how to fix higher education.

"I'm thrilled to be part of such an important mission and something so big, bold and potentially disruptive," Van Ostern, 34, wrote.

He wrote that he will begin his new post on Oct. 1.

(The full Sunday, Sept. 8, Granite Status follows.)

SUNDAY, SEPT. 8: BASS IS BACK. When we first reported last week that former U.S. Rep. Charlie Bass was back, seriously looking at running for the U.S. Senate, the first reaction among Republican activists, and political junkies in general, was surprise.

We haven't run into anyone yet who thought Bass, 61, after losing to Ann Kuster last November, and after seven terms in the House, would get back into politics.

But apparently, once one has the bug, it's hard to shake, especially when people start calling, complimenting and recruiting.

We understand that among those who talked to Bass was U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte. Republican Party Chairman Jennifer Horn, who long ago was a Bass adversary, but more recently has been a supporter and friend, was excited about it, as well.

While Bass would enter a race against former Gov. and Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen as an underdog (presuming he wins a likely primary), he could well become a strong challenger, especially if national and world events turn against President Barack Obama and the Democrats over the next year.

For now, "he's viable and plausible," says University of New Hampshire political science professor Dante Scala.

"He certainly passes the 'Who's that?'" test, more so than Jeb Bradley," said Scala. Bass' interest was prompted by Bradley's exit from contention. Bradley is the state Senate majority leader.

Besides name recognition, Scala said, Bass has also shown he can raise a "decent" amount of money. Both points are arguable. But if Bass were to win the nomination, presumably the National Republican Senatorial Committee would spend a fair amount of money here, especially if it became apparent that Shaheen was truly vulnerable.

At the least, Bass would not embarrass the GOP, would run a credible race and would force the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee to spend money here to help Shaheen.

Republicans contend that last year, a big Democratic year, Bass actually ran fairly well against Kuster.GOP sources pointed out that Bass did better in the 2nd District in his race against Kuster than Romney did there in his race against Obama and Lamontagne did there in his contest with Hassan.

While Bass lost the district 50 to 45 percent, Romney lost the district, 54 to 44 percent, and Lamontagne lost, 56 to 41 percent.

Still, polling in the months leading to the election showed Bass not particularly well-liked in his district, often "underwater," with more constituents viewing him unfavorably.

It's hard to pinpoint, though, how much of the negativity was focused on Bass himself and how much of it reflected an overall negative view at the time of Republicans in general and Romney in particular.

A midterm election, the GOP reasoning goes, should be better for Republicans than was the 2012 election. If the economy continues to sputter and if the U.S. gets even more bogged down in the Middle East, well, who knows?

Scala said any election is generally more of commentary on the incumbent rather than the challenger. But with Bass as a former longtime congressman, he would have some incumbent characteristics, and the battle would focus on which side was better at "defining" the other and exploiting perceived weaknesses.

"Right now," said Scala, "the state seems content with Jeanne Shaheen. But a lot can change in a year's time, so the Republicans would be well-served to have a plausible alternative."

Democrats wasted no time dusting off the 2012 attacks, reviving a 2011 report by a liberal watchdog group charging that Bass was a "corrupt" congressman who acted to benefit his business while in the House, a charge Bass long ago denied.

And there's already talk in Democratic circles of a new "ethical scandal."

Bass earlier this year used $400 of his campaign committee funds to pay his dues at the Republican Capitol Hill Club, a self-described "national social club" for Republicans.

Federal Election Commission rules ban the use of campaign funds for "personal use," and "club dues" are among those uses.

So, it's apparently a "no-no." But an ethical scandal? Really?

Welcome back, Charlie.

But with the Democrats on the attack at the first sign of Bass' interest, one of his friends said, "Charlie has to think long and hard about whether he wants to put himself through that again."

We understand that after speaking to the media on Thursday, Bass is now "going dark" until he makes his decision.

His former campaign spokesman, longtime media consultant Scott Tranchemontagne, was back at it Friday, offering a prepared statement from Bass:

"The amount of support and encouragement that I have received to enter the U.S. Senate race and seek the opportunity to serve the citizens of our great state is humbling," the statement read. " It is my intention, as I have said, to continue to discuss the prospects of a campaign over the coming weeks with my family and supporters.

"I will make my decision in the near future and until then will have no further comment."

Tranchemontagne had no comment on the dues question.

Looks like campaign mode to us. But we'll see.

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RUBENS NOT BACKING AWAY. The news on Bass sets up the possibility of a three-way, or possibly four-way, GOP Senate primary.

It didn't take long after our report on Bass for former state Sen. Jim Rubens to announce he will make an announcement on his plans for a Senate candidacy on Sept. 18 at the Legislative Office Building in Concord.

Although he's not saying so outright, it's fully expected that he will run.

If he does, there would be two moderates in the race, leaving room for a conservative alternative.

Enter activist Karen Testerman? We'll see.

And will UNH business school Dean Dan Innis get in? Right now, he's still apparently focusing on a possible 1st District U.S. House candidacy.

- - - - - - -

DRAFT FRANK. Former U.S. Rep. Frank Guinta has been nowhere to be found since telling us in July that he plans to announce his plans for a 1st District race against Rep. Carol Shea-Porter.

But all indications are that Guinta continues to move toward another 1st District House candidacy.

A new Facebook page, "Draft Frank Guinta 2014," went up on Friday, sponsored by "a group of Republicans from across the spectrum interested in drafting Frank Guinta to run and return to Congress in the First Congressional District."

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RGA POLLING. While the Republicans continue to search for a viable candidate for governor next year, the national Republican Governors Association is already polling and message testing in the state.

Hampton-based media consultant and former Union Leader Executive Editor Charlie Perkins tells us he received a polling call Thursday evening from a Utah firm whose representative told him the RGA was the sponsor.

Perkins said the poll tested state Senate President Chuck Morse, state Sen. Andy Sanborn, Frank "Gunta" (sic) and state Rep. George Lambert, each versus Gov. Maggie Hassan.

He said the 10-minute survey focused on the governor's race, but also asked for his attitude about President Barack Obama and the Tea Party.

Perkins said the pollster asked whether he would be more or less likely to vote for Hassan under certain circumstances.

"Those questions were all negative spins on her record," he said, "everything from raising state spending to radical pro-abortionist to gas/cigarette tax hiker to opponent of an anti-tax constitutional amendment."

Perkins said there were no questions about casinos, surprisingly.

Based on Perkins' description, we'd say the poll seemed more like message-testing than a push poll. But if it is construed as a push poll, it was a legal one because the caller identified the sponsor.

- - - - - - - -

WHY? Our exclusive report on Friday that state Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley's son, Sebastian, voted in Colorado and in New Hampshire in 2008 has many political observers simply wondering why the young man would do it.

Jeb Bradley told us that if his son did vote twice - and he would try to get more details on whether he did - it would have been "clearly a mistake."

Could it be that the younger Bradley sent in an absentee ballot to Wolfeboro to vote only for his father, who was running against Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, and then voted for other candidates in Colorado?

Seems like a plausible explanation.

In any event, the state Democratic Party put out a scathing statement when our story appeared on Friday - an attack viewed as over-the-top by Republicans because it accused Bradley's son of "unethical and illegal behavior."

State Republican Party Executive Director Matt Slater called it "outrageous and disgusting that the New Hampshire Democrat Party would openly target the child of an elected official and use (him) as fodder for their cheap political attacks."

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RETURN OF (THE) KING. Republican New York Congressman Pete King continues to get to know New Hampshire Republicans as he weighs a run for President in 2016.

The Long Island representative returned to the state Friday for the second time in about a month for a series of meetings and media interviews.

"I'm looking at it seriously, considering it and want to see what kind of response I get here," King said. "So far I've been getting a very good response.

"I also want to get a feel for the direction the party is going in and help local candidates."

King said he met with Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas and Republican State Committee Chairman Jennifer Horn.

King said Friday that on Saturday he planned to keynote the Carroll County GOP Lobster Bake in Wolfeboro and attend the Seacoast Republican Women Chili Fest at the Scamman Farm in Stratham.

He said he'll be back next Sunday, Sept. 15, for the Strafford County GOP Barbecue and a NHGOP brunch, both in Dover.

And, he said, he'll return yet again on Oct. 7 to speak at the New England Council's "Politics and Eggs" event at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics.

King said he remains concerned about the situation in Syria and "very disappointed" in President Obama.

He said many Republicans House members are opposing Obama on striking Syria "because they don't believe the President is serious enough about it."

King said he will support the Obama resolution, however, and will be on "Meet the Press" today to address it.

John DiStaso is senior political reporter of the New Hampshire Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News. He can be reached at and followed on Twitter: @jdistaso.

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