Summertime and the Races are Heating Up in N.H.

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Garry Rayno is's State House Bureau Chief. He is pictured in the press room at the State House in Concord.


The middle of the summer is a time for vacations, relaxation and forgetting the work world you inhabit for most of the year.

But it is also the height of campaign season in New Hampshire because of its traditional September primary.

So while other states and their citizens may leave politics behind for the next two months, New Hampshire and its residents along with three other states — Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Delaware — have September primaries.

A number of states have August primaries, mostly early in the month, with the exception of Florida, which holds its intra-party selection process Aug. 23.

And when campaigns heat up, so do the infamous hits on candidates.

While it may appear campaigns have become nastier and meaner with all the added money the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision poured into elections, the hits on opposing candidates have always existed and a weapon every campaign uses now and again.

Actually the hits on candidates are a lot easier to find today than they used to be with all the information on the internet.

Now all you need is a Google search to term up gems to generate attack ads to run over and over again.

One of the first things well run campaigns do is opposition research on their own candidate. That way you find out what information other campaigns may have and decide how to respond before you are blindsided and in panic mode.

Last week had the first significant hit piece in the Republican primary for the US Senate nomination.

Any longtime observer knew this race was going to become brutal at some point just like the Republican race for the 1st District Congressional nomination will.

In both cases the fields are large and only a couple of the candidates have a real opportunity — read enough money — to rise to the top.

But with many candidates in a race, the number of votes needed for victory is small but the competition for every vote is large.

The US Senate race attack was aimed at Kevin Smith, former staffer for US Sen. Bob Smith and Gov. Craig Benson; executive director of the conservative Cornerstone Action; GOP gubernatorial candidate; Londonderry Town Manager, and chair of the Pease Development Authority.

The hit came from the Huffington Post and involved a suit filed by a former Londonderry employee claiming Smith disrespected women and did not respond appropriately to sexual harassment issues that were raised.

His campaign denied the allegations.

“There is not one shred of truth in this politically-motivated, character assassination hit piece,” Smith posted on Twitter.

“But to establishment hacks and liberal media junkyards like the Huffington Post, facts don’t matter.”

His campaign manager pointed the finger at one of Smith’s opponents, Senate President Chuck Morse for the attack noting one of his advisors had hinted at it on Twitter several weeks ago.

Morse, for his part, said another US Senate candidate, retired Gen. Don Bolduc had first raised the topic.

What is particularly harmful about this for Smith is he already has a problem with women voters as he has long been associated with the anti-abortion issue movement, particularly when he was leading Cornerstone Action.

But on the other hand, Smith should be thankful this did not happen the week or two before the primary when more people are paying attention and the damage would be harder to contain.

There have already been several political attacks in the 1st District Congressional race for the GOP nomination, not the least of which came fairly early in the political season and involved Matt Mowers, a former Trump and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie aide, and state party executive director in New Hampshire.

With Republicans and Mowers raising the election integrity flag, having Mowers vote twice in the presidential primary, one in New Hampshire and once in his home state at the time of New Jersey, does not look good.

When the information came out, Mowers said he voted in New Jersey because the establishment was after Trump and he wanted to show his support, having originally been with Christie for president.

That might be a good excuse for the base, but does not have any legal standing.

The New Hampshire Attorney General released a report saying Mowers did not break any New Hampshire laws, and he did not because he voted here first and then later in New Jersey which is contrary to federal law.

Again the attack came early in the campaign and not at the end when it could have done much more damage.

The voting information on Mowers surfaced through the Democratic Party, and the latest attack on Democratic US Sen. Maggie Hassan comes from the Washington publication often used as a GOP vehicle to attack Democrats.

The issue concerns a person on one of her gubernatorial campaign committees, who was dismissed from Phillips Exeter Academy for sexual misconduct with students. The issue was raised extensively in 2016 when she first ran for US Senate.

Hassan’s husband was the headmaster of the private school at the time.

Sometimes when business executives decide to run for office, they forget there is a treasure trove of information that any enterprising opposition staffer or reporter can quickly access.

The Security and Exchange Commission’s filings are available for all to see and — with a little patience — can reveal many interesting facts.

A number of years ago, a former business owner and entrepreneur and then candidate sold himself as a great job creator, but his company’s SEC filings told the story of company consolidations and moving jobs to Mexico with the coming of the North American Trade Agreement.

That puts the candidate in the position of either disputing the information in the SEC filing or providing federal regulators with incorrect information or to be blunt lying about business practices.

A lot of candidates run for office in New Hampshire but have until the last election voted where they really lived not their second home on the lake.

Such problems are not deal breakers but they do not make the candidate look like he or she may not really be interested in representing the state’s people as much as shopping for a cheaper place to run for a powerful office.

Other examples include a Democratic former House member who decided to run for Congress but had an incident in her past that left a man dead or a gubernatorial candidate who as a former attorney general dropped the ball as his staff allowed a district court judge, who bilked his vulnerable clients out of millions of dollars, to move to his vacation home in Maine and then disappear.

All these “problems” maybe would not disappear with a little self opposition research, but could be handled in a less damaging way.

Some campaigns quietly release bad information early so when it is closer to the election and it surfaces again, they can call it “old news.”

Ultimately voters have to decide if political attacks are enough to change their minds about a candidate or if they like what they see and will vote for that person anyway.

And in the middle of summer, some of the back and forth is better entertainment than anything else out there.

Garry Rayno may be reached at

Distant Dome by veteran journalist Garry Rayno explores a broader perspective on the State House and state happenings for Over his three-decade career, Rayno covered the NH State House for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Foster’s Daily Democrat. During his career, his coverage spanned the news spectrum, from local planning, school and select boards, to national issues such as electric industry deregulation and Presidential primaries. Among many awards, he earned the New Hampshire Press Association Lifetime Achievement Award. Rayno lives with his wife Carolyn in New London.

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