Kuster talks jobs, higher ed to students at Keene State

12 Sep

KEENE, NH — Democratic candidate Ann McLane Kuster spoke to college students at Keene State College today, where she spoke about increasing access to higher education and the unique challenges facing college students today.

Two days before the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday, she joined competitor Katrina Swett and Democratic Senate candidate Paul Hodes in Keene — Main Street was flooded with signs by the end of the day.

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Hodes highlights Dem strength at Keene community lunch

12 Sep

KEENE, NH — As Paul Hodes shouted about taking on the Republicans in November to an enthusiastic, applauding Democratic crowd in Keene on Sunday, it was clear that liberals in New Hampshire won’t go down without a fight.

Paul Hodes, right, and his wife Peggo, perform for community supporters in Keene on Sunday.

Hodes is the Congressman in the 2nd district vacating his seat to run as the the sole Democratic nominee for the Senate. A relatively popular Representative among liberals, he trounced Jennifer Horn in his 2008 reelection and made headlines beating then-incumbent Charlie Bass in 2006.

But he faces a tough Senate fight this fall, no matter who Republicans elect on Tuesday. So far, he is trailing likely Republican nominee Kelly Ayotte by several points.

But the community support he received Sunday showed  the degree to which he has benefitted from running without opposition as the Democratic nominee, and provides an interesting contrast with the race between Democrats vying for his seat, which has been a bitter, at times unpleasant, struggle.

On Sunday he recieved enthusiastic support from a clearly very liberal crowd — many of whom, incidentally, were sporting Kuster stickers.

The Congressman, who has run against (and beaten) two of the three Republican candidates running in the 2nd district race, thinks whoever the Democrats elect on Tuesday will run a strong November fight against the conservatives.

“We’re going to have on Tuesday, or whenever the results come in, a tremendous Democratic candidate,” he said.

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Check back this evening for a post on Democratic candidate Ann McLane Kuster’s appearance at Keene State.

Republican debate highlights Bass weaknesses

11 Sep

HENNIKER, NH — While much of the focus and media attention in the 2nd district Congressional campaign has focused on the Democrats, the three Republican candidates showed Saturday that theirs is still a fascinating and peculiar struggle — that has been misunderstood by the national media.

Bob Giuda, Jennifer Horn and Charlie Bass took the stage at New England College only days before the September 14 primary. The interactions between the three showed how vastly different they are as candidates and how Bass has struggled to run against his conservative counterparts. In contrast to the media’s analysis of theirs as an imbalanced contest, none of the three looked like a clear winner.

Bob Giuda, Jennifer Horn, and Charlie Bass participate in a debate at New England College on Saturday.

While Bass will likely prevail due his fundraising abilities, Horn and Giuda’s performances illustrated the degree to which a well-funded conservative could have really changed the race, and the degree to which Bass will struggle against the much more dynamic Democrats in the general election.

Many outlets have written off the race as solidly within Bass’s grasp, and on paper, this seems right. He has the moderate credentials, party backing, experience and fundraising to render his opponents essentially non-factors in the race. But this narrative was not at all obvious at Saturday’s debate, where Bass underperformed and Giuda and Horn looked relatively strong.

From a visual perspective, Bass looked physically terrible in Saturday’s debate. Seeing him in person provided a sharp contrast with the media’s portrayal of an assured victor on Tuesday.

James Pindell noted in his column about last week’s debate that Bass seemed actually ill, and I wrote in July that his campaign has seemed fairly lackluster for months now. On Saturday, he closed his eyes while his opponents spoke, took breaths and pauses at random times, and displayed odd mannerisms that weren’t on display earlier this summer.

But even on a policy level, he largely failed to demonstrate the degree to which he is leading this race. Bass and Horn got into a heated discussion about the value of experience in a candidate, and it wasn’t clear that anyone won. For a man who served 12 years in Congress, not being able to articulate the value of experience against a woman who has never held office is concerning.

But Bass’s problem is that he’s essentially running as someone he is not. A moderate, mainstream Republican, he is trying to embrace the Tea Party phenomenon and win his base while also defending a moderate voting record and appealing to independents. It’s too much for any one person to accomplish, and he seems frusterated by the inconsistencies as a result.

Bass will likely do much better running against a liberal Democrat in the general election, where he can tout his widespread political appeal with less fear of alienating hardcore Republicans. But until Tuesday, he has to deal with this conundrum.

One of the panelists asked him if he’s concerned that party leaders don’t find him conservative enough, and he became visibly agitated at the suggestion, hitting the podium in response. “No one can beat my record,” he said, seeming distressed at the suggestion.

In contrast, Giuda looked sharp and effective in the exchange. He does well in public speaking because he’s an engaging, dynamic conversationalist. He is confident and clearly enjoys discussing foreign policy. It’s unfortunate that Giuda spend the entire time with an odd smirk on his face. And that his campaign has virtually no money or prospects for a win on Tuesday.

Horn also did well, challenging Bass on his voting record and his lack of idealism in revamping how Congress operates. What she lacks in substance and practical policy solutions, Horn more than compensates with her dyanamic, compassionate brand of conservatism that could resonate with more hardline GOP voters.

But as one panelist noted, Horn has failed to gather endorsements from national conservatives like Sarah Palin — likely a sore point for the self-proclaimed mama grizzly in this race. She has also struggled to raise enough money to really seriously compete with Bass.

And financing is perhaps the most important aspect of this race, and the reason Bass will win next week, despite a lackluster campaign. “We cannot nominate a candidate that is flat-broke the day after the election,” he said in one of the sharper moments of the debate, hitting his opponents where it counts.

Horn has more than $200,000 in debt from her failed 2008 campaign, and Giuda has loaned his team more than $100,000 of his own money. Neither are prepared to take on the Democrats, who have far out-raised the Republicans in this race. Ann McLane Kuster, the likely nominee at this point, has raised more than $1 million.

What would Horn or Giuda’s campaigns looked like had they raised the money to compete with Bass? The contest is eerily reminsicent of Ovide LaMontagne‘s Senate bid, which has gained momentum from conservative endorsements this week despite his inability to keep up with frontrunner Kelly Ayotte in fundraising.

It seems that Charlie Bass could have really struggled this year — but Horn and Giuda weren’t the candidates to make it happen.

Dems keep it civil in Friday debate, focus on policy

10 Sep

HENNIKER, NH — Weeks of campaign anger and insults came to a head this week when Ann McLane Kuster and Katrina Swett clashed visibly and personally in Wednesday’s debate, but the candidates put their discord aside Friday when they took the stage at New England College.

The two women presented a smart, focused, and driven image, hitting hard on policy issues such as tax code, Social Security and troop withdrawals in Iraq. Democrats can be pleased that whoever they elect will be a formidable candidate in November — both women did very well.

But the debate highlighted the inherent differences between the two candidates, and the degree to which Tuesday’s winner will have a tough fight ahead of her.

The candidates address a small audience at New England College Friday night. The Republicans will debate on Saturday at noon.

In a sharp contrast with Wednesday’s event, Kuster and Swett both largely refused to engage in attacks of the other, and spoke of their desire to raise the level of debate in their race. It would have seemed refreshing — to anyone who missed Wednesday’s debate.

It was particularly clear Friday night that the Democratic race is as much about voters picking a brand of politics they prefer than ideology — both candidates are fundamentally liberal, pro-choice, pro-Obama women who believe in government’s role in securing health care, economic growth and middle class opportunities.

But the two have vastly different personalities and brands of politics, which was clearly on display Friday night.

Swett is a something of a political bulldog. A mother of seven and candidate several times before, she took the lead in answering questions and used animated hand and facial gestures to convey her passion. She is spunky and passionate, comfortable talking policy and using anecdotes (however saccharine at times) to illustrate her points. When she talks of fighting for the middle class, it seems that she could break out boxing gloves at any minute. On Friday, she brought her A-game.

Kuster, in contrast, never looks quite as comfortable  behind a podium as she does in voter living rooms. She can come off as slightly plodding in debates, repeating her mantra of running a grassroots campaign. But while she lacks Swett’s flair for drama, she has a grounded, Yankee sensibility that appeals well to voters in a more personal settings. She is likable and articulate at the same time, and on Friday, seemed at ease in her role as the progressive candidate.

The two are set for a competitive race on Tuesday, but the questions on Friday already hinted at the challenges to come. Debate moderators asked both women if they thought the negativity of the campaign they’ve waged will serve as ammunition for whoever the Republican elect next week. While both claimed this would not be the case, GOP blogger glee last week told another story.

Democrats will have a tough choice on Tuesday, but it’s the contest that starts Wednesday that they should be worried about — in some ways, the fight has only just begun.

Check back Saturday afternoon for a post-event analysis of the Republican debate. It will be held at noon at New England College. Read more information here.

Dems to debate tonight

10 Sep

Democrats Ann McLane Kuster and Katrina Swett will debate tonight at 7 p.m. in advance of Tuesday’s primary.

The two faced off this week in a debate that turned heated and drew criticism from the media (Read the Primary Wire recap here.) WMUR’s James Pindell noted that “neither Democratic candidate came out smelling like roses,” and a clip of the two debating the divisive issue of lobbying is worth a watch.

Tonight’s matchup provides an opportunity for the candidates to either begin repairing the negative image they have perpetuated, or to further solidify the perception that theirs is an ugly race — and one that will help whichever Republican is elected in November.

Either way, it will be a good measure of the Democratic contest before going into the final weekend of the primary campaign.

The debate will  be held at 7 p.m. at the Henniker campus of New England College, hosted by the school’s Center for Civic Engagement in conjunction with other media outlets. The Republican candidates will debate on Saturday at noon.

It will be broadcasted by WGIR, and a post-debate analysis will posted on Primary Wire this evening.