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John DiStaso's Granite Status: Campaigns, carpetbaggers, change, and 'Ciao'

Senior Political Reporter

April 03. 2014 8:08PM

GEARING UP. The election year typically launches into high gear in April and 2014 is no exception.

Although the announcements of the candidacies of Scott Brown for U.S. Senate and Walt Havenstein for governor were no surprise, the double-barreled disclosures on Wednesday had Republicans energized.

But those two GOP candidacies also energized the Democrats, who always love a good fight. And they believe they have in Brown and Havenstein two opponents with glaring weaknesses.

But the establishment GOP is happy with Brown and Havenstein, even if the liberty movement conservative are not.

"I don't mean to diminish anyone else," said veteran GOP political strategist Tom Rath, "but Scott Brown and Walt Havenstein will help.

"These are quality individuals who can provide real, credible alternatives to the Democrats.

"They are both going to bring resources, intellect and experience to this and that's very valuable," he said. "The feeling is that combination of Walt and Brown have us immediately becoming competitive. It's a dramatic change for the better and for hope in 2014."

"And the stronger the top of the ticket is, the stronger the entire ticket becomes."

Both candidates have primaries with conservatives. If they win, they will have a challenge uniting the party and will need a unified party to compete with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Gov. Maggie Hassan in the general election.

Republican contend that President Barack Obama, and what they view as his failed leadership, and of course Obamacare, will be key issues in 2014 as they try to bring down the Democrats who control four of the five highest offices in the state.

As in most elections, each side will try to get you to focus on totally different issues and will try to define the other side in a negative light.

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WHERE YOU FROM? Democrats have a ready-made "carpetbagger" issue for both Brown and Havenstein, and with Havenstein, it's more than just where he's from or where he lives and has lived.

Havenstein is from Alton, but as we now know he lived in — or at least declared as his primary residence for a few years — Bethesda, Md.

The eligibility question will haunt him throughout; even before he gets to the general election.

Havenstein, as you may have heard by now, acknowledged saving $5,354 from 2008 to 2011 by getting a homestead exemption from local property taxes in Maryland. He also paid a lower state property transfer tax while buying the property in that state.

Havenstein obtained those breaks by acknowledging that his $1 million condominium was his "principal residence" where he was living at least seven months of the year.

Havenstein said he never relinquished New Hampshire as his domicile and noted that during the years he spent his work weeks in Maryland, he regularly voted in New Hampshire primary and general elections.

Ultimately, this will be an issue for the state Ballot Law Commission, and possibly the courts.

But if he prevails and remains eligible, how will the voters react?

Former state Democratic chair Kathy Sullivan articulated the line of attack on Brown and Havenstein.

"It says a lot about the Republican Party in New Hampshire right now that they had to recruit a political tourist to come in with Scott Brown at the encouragement of Big Oil and Wall Street.

"And for governor, to recruit someone who is starting out with a real air of controversy around him" concerning his principal place or residency being in Maryland, "and not to be able recruit any of the home grown candidates to run — that also says a lot.

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HONING IN. Democrats are honing in on all four Republican U.S. House candidates after U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan unveiled his budget that, among many other things, restructures Medicare over the next decade.

Republican candidates Frank Guinta and Dan Innis in the 1st District, and Marilinda Garcia and Gary Lambert in the 2nd District have not yet issued any commentary on the Ryan budget.

But the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee unveiled new web advertising as part of a "nationwide effort" called the "Battleground: Middle Class" project.

"Frank Guinta, Dan Innis, Marilinda Garcia, and Gary Lambert's new Republican budget is the clearest illustration yet that none of them are on the side of New Hampshire's middle class families — their Republican budget rewards the special interests and the wealthy who need help the least, and does it on the backs of the middle class," said Josh Schwerin of the DCCC."

Guinta called it "standard operating procedure for the DCCC to oppose anyting proposed by Paul and the Budget Committee."

He said that while he has not read the full proposal yet, "this is a starting point you hope will go through the process. You hope the Senate would take up a budget and both sides will craft what is best for the country.

"It seems like the Democrats, and I assume Carol Shea-Porter, are more interested in attacking people than working with them," Guinta said. "What is Carol Shea-Porter doing to help the middle class families of the state?"

"I don't understand why she would stand behind a press release that beats up people who want to serve."

Lambert spokesman Ethan Zorfas said the 2nd District Republican "is the only candidate in this race who comes from the middle class. He saw his mother, without a high school education, work in a nursing home to make ends meet for her family after her husband died when he was 50 and Gary was 18.

"Gary worked for minimum wage at McDonalds and at a textile mill to earn money for college. He joined the Marine Corps when he was 19.

"Families in the Second District do not need DC insiders telling them what the middle class wants — they got enough of that with Obamacare," Zorfas said.

Garcia campaign manager Tom Szold says the DCCC has his candidate pegged wrong.

"For Democrats to say Marilinda supports the recently announced U.S. House Budget Committee proposal simply is not true. While Marilinda appreciates many of the efforts in the U.S. House Budget Committee proposal to reform government and reduce spending, there are many aspects of this budget that, if in Congress, Marilinda Garcia would want to see changed. Marilinda Garcia has a record of independence and of putting the needs of New Hampshire before party politics," he said.

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"CHANGE NEEDED." Republican 1st District congressional candidate Dan Innis has picked up the endorsements of former New Hampshire House speaker Douglas Scamman and his wife, former Rep. Stella Scamman.

The Scammans, who have been well-known hosts to major GOP political events over the years, are making their first endorsement in a primary since 2010, when they backed Sean Mahoney, Doug Scamman said.

With former Republican U.S. Rep. Frank Guinta running again to try to reclaim the seat he lost to Democratic Rep. Carol Shea-Porter in 2012, former UNH business school Dean Innis has been putting together a credible campaign.

The Scammans are among his most prominent supporters.

"If we're going to change Washington, we need people like Dan down there," Doug Scamman said in an interview. "He is the type of person I believe will work with everyone down there and make judgments on what makes the most fiscal sense."

In an announcement Thursday by the Innis campaign, the Scammans say, "Dan Innis is the new voice our Republican Party needs to win in November. "Dan has an outstanding record of accomplishment both as a small business owner and as head of the University of New Hampshire School of Business."

They called him a "solutions-based Republican."

Douglas Scamman served 13 terms as a state representative, including three terms as Speaker of the House. Stella Scamman served three terms in the New Hampshire House and is active with the Seacoast Republican Women.

The Scammans' Bittersweet Farm in Stratham has hosted dozens of local and national Republican candidates over the years, including Mitt Romney's formal announcement for President in 2011.

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MOVING ON. If you've read this far down in the column, you've finished reading the final "Granite Status" column I'll be writing for the New Hampshire Union Leader and

After more than 34 years at the state's largest newspapers, I'm moving on.

While I'm leaving the paper, I'm not leaving New Hampshire or New Hampshire politics.

Far from it.

I'll be writing about the upcoming mid-terms and the 2016 presidential primaries on the web beginning soon.

But in the meantime, I sincerely thank all of you who have been readers for these many years. And I just as sincerely thank the management and my co-workers at the Union Leader for their support and friendship. See you soon!

John DiStaso has been a staff reporter for the New Hampshire Union Leader since February 1980 and has been writing the Granite Status column since its inception in 1982.

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