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Options Complicate N.H. GOP's Ballot Calculus

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Then-Rep. Frank Guinta, R-N.H., and Democratic challenger Carol Shea-Porter shake hands following the 1st Congressional District debate on Monday, Sept. 17, 2012, at St. Anselm College in Manchester, N.H.((AP Photo/The Union Leader, David Lane, Pool))

New Hampshire Republicans are engaged in a game of musical chairs: A host of familiar names are being linked to the 2014 gubernatorial, Senate and 1st District congressional races. Several of these potential candidates are considering running for more than one of these offices, and the decisions made by those higher in the party's pecking order will alter the plans of those lower on the food chain.

The first step to sorting out this logjam came earlier this month when former GOP Sen. John Sununu announced he would not seek any political office next year. Sununu had the right of first refusal to run for the seat he lost to now-Sen. Jeanne Shaheen six years ago, after initially defeating her in 2002. Sununu's decision opened up the race for other Republicans weighing 2014 bids.

State Sen. Jeb Bradley, the former congressman from the 1st District, appears to be the most likely candidate to fill that void. Bradley has indicated that he's leaning toward running, and it is believed to be the only race (outside of seeking reelection to the state Senate) that he's considering, unlike some of the other potential candidates.

Bradley could face opposition for the nomination from Frank Guinta, another former congressman from the 1st District. After losing his reelection bid last year in a rematch with Democrat Carol Shea-Porter, Guinta is weighing his options, but it's unlikely he'll sit this election cycle out. On a trip to Washington last week, he reportedly met with both the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Sources in New Hampshire said Guinta won't necessarily shy away from a primary against Bradley if he decides he'd rather run for the upper chamber. But the safer bet seems to be on Guinta opting for a third bout with Shea-Porter, who is considered more vulnerable than Shaheen. President Obama defeated Mitt Romney, 50 percent to 48 percent, in the 1st District last year, but the seat becomes more difficult for a Democrat to hold without the president at the top of the ticket, as Shea-Porter discovered when she lost to Guinta by 12 points in the GOP landslide of 2010.

Guinta's decision will help determine the fates of two other Granite State Republicans looking to move up: state Sen. Andy Sanborn and Executive Councilor Chris Sununu, the brother of the former senator and son of former Gov. John Sununu. Both Republicans are reportedly interested in challenging Shea-Porter, although neither is expected to run if Guinta chooses the House race over the Senate contest. But that decision could push one or both of the Republicans into the gubernatorial race. Sununu he's also considering running against Gov. Maggie Hassan, and Sanborn reportedly met with the Republican Governors Association last week. Only four months into her first term, Hassan doesn't have a declared challenger for 2014 yet, although conservative activist Kevin Smith, who finished second in the 2012 gubernatorial primary, is mulling another run.

Of course, a certain former senator from neighboring Massachusetts could inject some more uncertainty into the 2014 landscape. Scott Brown has repeatedly refused to rule out running against Shaheen. Initially, the idea of Brown crossing state lines was viewed as extremely unlikely in New Hampshire Republican circles, but his regular stops in the state -- the most recent being at a GOP fundraiser in Hanover on Saturday -- have some Granite State insiders thinking he might actually make the jump. Brown's entrance into the Senate race probably wouldn't clear the primary field, but it would further complicate an already confusing calculus as New Hampshire Republicans look toward 2014.

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