Over the past decade, New Hampshire's two House seats have been bellwethers for the broader battle for the House, and recent polling shows that Democratic Reps. Carol Shea-Porter and Ann McLane Kuster face stormy political conditions as they head into reelection battles next year.
The recent Granite State Poll, sponsored by WMUR-TV and conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, points to the possibility of another topsy-turvy year in New Hampshire House elections. Residents of both districts say they favor someone else over the incumbent, though most of the leading names on the Republican side have very little name identification.
In the 1st District, 36 percent believe Shea-Porter should be reelected, while 42 percent believe someone else should be elected instead. Kuster, in the 2nd District, fares worse: Just 26 percent of residents in her district believe she should be reelected, and 39 percent believe someone else should take the seat.
Shea-Porter and Kuster are freshmen in Congress, though both have electoral history in their respective districts that points to the volatility of the state's House races. Shea-Porter knocked off then-GOP Rep. Jeb Bradley in the Democratic wave election of 2006 and served two terms, only to lose to Frank Guinta in the 2010 GOP wave. But she rebounded to beat Guinta in a rematch last year.
Kuster defeated then-Rep. Charles Bass last year, two years after Bass beat her to fill an open seat -- the same seat Bass held until 2006, when he was swept out of Congress in the 31-seat Democratic win.
Both Shea-Porter and Kuster lag the two statewide Democrats also on the 2014 ballot: Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Gov. Maggie Hassan. Half believe Shaheen should be reelected, while 34 percent want someone else, statewide results from the same survey show. For Hassan, who just took office earlier this year, 45 percent think she should be reelected, and 25 percent believe someone else should take over.
The poll results, particularly the contrasting positions of the statewide and House Democratic incumbents, suggest it's possible the state could yet again see both of its House seats flip parties next year. But the same poll shows Republicans aren't in the driver's seat. In the 1st District, more view Guinta, who is rumored to be interested in running for a third straight cycle and has more name-ID than other potential candidates, unfavorably (36 percent) than percent view him favorably (27 percent). Shea-Porter posts stronger numbers: 37 percent have a favorable opinion, 28 percent unfavorable.
Still, New Hampshire-based Republican consultant Jim Merrill called Guinta a "formidable contender" in the 1st District. Guinta is a "proven campaigner" and did a "good job when he was in Washington," according to Merrill.
The leading GOP candidate in the 2nd District, former state House Speaker Bill O'Brien, is also net-negatives on favorability: 22 percent in the district have a favorable view of O'Brien, while 25 percent have an unfavorable opinion. That minus-3 net favorability rating "is up significantly from -25% in April," the UNH poll report states. Kuster's net favorability rating is just plus-2.
One source familiar with the race indicated that the 2nd District primary is generating more discussion than the other House primary, though many Republicans are primarily focused on the Senate race, where Bradley is one of the possible candidates.
Merrill said there's "some concern about Bill O'Brien" and mentioned former state Rep. Gary Lambert as a possible entrant with political assets.
The UNH poll did not test Lambert's image ratings. The poll was conducted July 18-29, surveying 516 residents statewide, including 283 in the 1st District and 233 in the 2nd District.