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Kevin Landrigan's Granite Status: Trump kicks off 2020; is Pence kicking off 2024 (or earlier)?

March 21. 2018 10:47PM

On Monday, President Donald Trump’s return to New Hampshire for many political observers was the virtual kickoff for his 2020 reelection campaign in the state that launched his amazing trajectory to the White House 16 months ago.

Well today, you could make the case Vice President Mike Pence’s return to the first-in-the-nation primary state is — best case, the beginning of the 2024 race — or worst case, the fallback plan for the Republican brand should Trump not seek a second term.

(Click here for today's op-ed piece by Pence on tax cuts and New Hampshire.)

“If you are Mike Pence, now is the time to establish your roots here, get comfortable with the activist corps and start to build a brand all your own,” said Greg Moore, state director of the fiscally conservative Americans for Prosperity. Moore has met Pence individually several times.

“What people are going to find is Mike Pence doesn’t fit the caricature that has already been created for him. He’s a sincere, very approachable person who’s also a policy wonk, someone who likes to get into the details of issues, solve problems and get things done.”

Arnie Arnesen, former Democratic nominee for governor and a radio talk show host, believes Pence’s ramped-up schedule has two goals.

“It’s a win for Mike Pence any way you look at it. First, he gets to show the flag for this President and in many ways he’s been among the most under-the-radar vice presidents that we’ve seen in a long time. He barely leaves any DNA behind on these trips,” Arnesen said.

“He is the perfect foil for this President, a principled conservative, a governor and congressman and a devoted family man. Trust me, if impeachment gets any traction in Washington or if it really goes south for Republicans in the midterm elections, the establishment desperately wants Mike Pence to be in a position to become the next President if not later than even sooner.”

Pence returns to New Hampshire to take part in a panel discussion on the tax reform bill. The original purpose of this trip was to headline a big ticket fund-raiser for Gov. Chris Sununu’s reelection.

“It is always a good thing to have the vice president endorse you,” Sununu said, adding New Hampshire is the perfect place for Pence to promote the tax cut.

“Go talk to the business leaders, talk to those who have received real checks in their pocket as we hit tax season ... the reality of the tax reform is really coming to bear and it’s a real benefit for all taxpayers in my view.”

Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley said Sununu’s allegiance to both Trump and Pence will be his undoing.

“Chris Sununu has earned Vice President Pence’s support by blindly backing this administration’s most radical, corrupt and inexcusable behavior,” Buckley said.

“Sununu and Pence share a love for the NRA and corporate handouts at the expense of working people, while they both tout an embarrassing record on women and LGBT rights. Every time Sununu brown-noses the Trump administration he ignores or excuses their dangerous behavior and lets down the people of New Hampshire.”

It’s important to note the tax talk is sponsored by America First Policies, the nonprofit dedicated to Trump’s issue agenda.

Last year Pence created and held eight donor events to benefit his own political action committee, Great American PAC.

“Pence is not about to come in here and do anything other than be intensely loyal to this President and promote the White House agenda and not his own,” Moore said.

“But anybody who thinks a presidential campaign is not some day in Mike Pence’s future has not been paying any attention.”

The trip also gives former U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte a platform as she’s on the tax cut panel.

For Trump partisans, Ayotte’s refusal to endorse him in 2016 will never go away, but she got some real props last year as the lead advocate on Capitol Hill for Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s pick for the U.S. Supreme Court.

“It makes perfect sense for her to work the policy side of the street with this vice president who by my understanding she has always had great respect for,” Moore added.

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Potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Jason Kander returns next week for his ninth trip to New Hampshire.

On Wednesday he’ll star at a fundraiser for the reelection of Sen. Dan Feltes, D-Concord, at the Concord Craft Brewing Co. along with giving a speech on campus to the Dartmouth College Young Democrats.

The former Missouri secretary of state’s Let America Vote has played a leading role with organizational support and campaign cash to Democratic candidates who have won special elections to the Legislature over the past year.

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Congressman Annie Kuster, D-NH, will pay a visit to the Manchester VA Medical Center on Friday.

The three-term Democrat is the ranking member of her party on the House Veterans Affairs subcommittee on investigations and has been an outspoken advocate for improvements to the facility.

Her three Republican opponents in the 2018 primary — two veterans and a former Manchester VA medical chief and whistleblower — maintain Kuster has been too slow or too ineffective in her call for dramatic reform.

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Sununu has many policy balls in the air at the State House these days but none more timely and perhaps more challenging than his “freedom scholarships” bill (SB 193), known by its critics as education vouchers for income-eligible parents who send their children to private or religious schools.

On Wednesday, Sununu confirmed he preferred these grants start with first grade; the current House Finance Committee amended bill would have them start in second grade.

“I think it is in very good shape right now, including first grade for those who choose to attend public kindergarten is a smart move,” Sununu told reporters. “It is not a make-or-break deal for myself.”

Sununu would be wise to be flexible.

House Finance Chairman Neal Kurk, R-Weare, has yet to commit to this measure and the defection of even a few dozen House Republicans could croak the entire cause in the House.

Meanwhile, Sununu’s predecessor, Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., has come out squarely against the legislation, which has become a target for House and Senate Democratic leaders in Concord.

“All students — regardless of personal circumstance — have the right to a quality public education. Unfortunately, SB 193 would undermine our public education system by diverting taxpayer dollars to private schools without accountability requirements, weakening investments in public education,” Hassan said Wednesday.

“I am also concerned about the impact this bill would have on students who experience disabilities because when students who experience disabilities receive publicly funded vouchers to attend private schools, they oftentimes do not receive adequate resources and are forced to give up many of their legal rights under IDEA.”

Hassan authored an op-ed in The Boston Globe earlier in the week that panned U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on this issue, among others.

“Imagine a secretary of education who acknowledged that voucher programs undermine even further these already challenged schools and recognized that navigating a Wild West of private, unaccountable, and sometimes predatory schools isn’t a tenable solution for many families,” Hassan wrote.

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Sununu has come out squarely for paid family and medical leave legislation, but not the version the House of Representatives twice passed earlier this spring.

The first-term Republican made it clear he prefers an amendment emerging from the House Finance Committee which requires companies to offer medical leave, but does not create an increase in the unemployment tax to pay for it.

As we first reported, two department heads said the bill the House initially passed with the tax hike could require a massive bond to pay for benefits while tax receipts come in and benefits might be offered for nearly two years after it became law.

“We simply cannot create a new program that Granite Staters would come to rely on and that we aren’t certain would be there for them in their times of need,” Sununu said.

Companies would have to offer a benefit but employees would be free to opt in or out of taking part in it.

“It is drastically different but I think it is a way to get the bill done,” Sununu said, urging the House to support the rewrite.

“It’s a voluntary version of it. This would be the first of its kind in the country to do this.”

In a later statement, Sununu acknowledged even if the House passes this, it will need “more work.”

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The Marijuana Policy Project has started a petition to remove Rep. Patrick Abrami, R-Stratham, as chairman of the state’s commission to study legalization.

Matt Simon, New England political director of the project, said Abrami has opposed legislation to make possession and home cultivation legal, a measure the House initially passed, 207-139 last January.

“All three neighboring states have already legalized marijuana possession and cultivation for adults, so it’s sad that Rep. Abrami and other representatives are still trying to stand in the way of progress,” Simon said. “The actions taken by Rep. Abrami in opposition to HB 656 demonstrate that he is simply not the right person to be leading this important study process.”

House Speaker Gene Chander’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the petition to remove Abrami.

At Abrami’s urging, the House Ways and Means Committee voted, 23-0, to urge this bill be shipped off to interim study oblivion.

The full House will debate the bill as early as today.

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Former Republican Congressman Frank Guinta landed a new gig last week with very little fanfare, named as senior vice president at ML Strategies LLC.

This is the lobbying/government relations outfit of Mintz Levin, one of the most lucrative law and lobbying firms in the Bay State.

Guinta will be based out of the firm’s Washington, D.C. office, company officials said.

“Frank is well-known and highly respected by his former congressional colleagues,” said Stephen P. Tocco, chairman and chief executive officer of ML Strategies. “Frank will bring a great value to our clients given his years of experience in and his keen understanding of the intersection of business and government.”

Tocco was a former economic executive and Massport CEO under former Massachusetts GOP Govs. Bill Weld and the late Paul Cellucci.

Many may remember it was Guinta who in 2016 hammered his last Republican primary opponent, Trump administration official Rich Ashooh.

Guinta repeatedly tried to get Ashooh to admit he had been a Capitol Hill lobbyist during a long career with BAE Systems.

“I am proud to have worked with our government to protect our military,” Ashooh answered during a televised debate.

Guinta won that primary, but lost reelection in a four-peat rematch with Democrat Carol Shea-Porter.

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