By John Toole
---- — Jim Rubens is in the center of the action as the Granite State political scene heats up in anticipation of statewide races for 2014 and the presidential contest in 2016.
Fresh from leading New Hampshire’s campaign to defeat casino gambling, Rubens yesterday said he soon will visit Windham, Atkinson and Salem for a different kind of campaign.
Rubens, 62, a Republican from Hanover, is exploring a run for U.S. Senate against incumbent Democrat Jeanne Shaheen.
“I’m doing three to five events a week,” Rubens said.
His upcoming appearances include taping a cable access show in Windham with state Rep. Mary Griffin, plus meetings with Republicans in Atkinson, Salem and Windham.
Rubens hasn’t formally announced, but yesterday he sounded as if the campaign is inevitable.
“I’d say so,” Rubens acknowledged. “I’ve been working at this full time for the past three months. Everything that needs to be done is being done.”
He’s expecting primary competition.
New Hampshire Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley is looking at the race, as are former U.S. Sen. Bob Smith and Scott Brown, the former U.S. senator from Massachusetts with a second home in Rye.
“There definitely will be a contest for the primary,” Rubens said.
A University of New Hampshire poll last week said 50 percent of Granite Staters believe Shaheen should be re-elected, but 34 percent want someone else.
“It’s a tall order,” said Dante Scala, a UNH political science professor, assessing GOP prospects against Shaheen.
Shaheen’s advantages include both her fundraising and poll standing, he said.
“I think it will be very difficult to defeat Jeanne Shaheen,” said Dean Spiliotes, a Southern New Hampshire political science professor. “She’s positioned herself pretty well.”
Rubens, who lost in the 1998 GOP gubernatorial primary, has a lot of work to do. Only 8 percent of those polled said they have a favorable opinion of him, while 85 percent do not know him or have a neutral opinion.
“Rubens has the field to himself until someone makes a decision,” Scala said.
Rubens is enjoying the campaign thus far.
“This is a wonderful opportunity to meet with smaller numbers of people,” he said. “This is a real luxury, these August conversations.”
Brown will be in Salem on Friday, headlining a benefit for the re-election campaign for state Rep. Joe Sweeney, R-Salem, at the Derry-Salem Elks Club in Salem.
Spiliotes isn’t convinced Brown will run.
“I think he is a guy who is trying to stay visible,” he said.
He also questions whether Brown, should he run, has decided how to handle the carpetbagger label that would be directed at him.
“Smith would be interesting, certainly provocative,” Spiliotes said.
But Spiliotes guesses Republicans have moved beyond the former senator at this point as they look to the future.
“We’ll see, but I don’t know that there’s great fervor for Bob Smith,” he said.
Gov. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., meanwhile, will be getting re-election help later this month from Vice President Joe Biden at a fundraiser in Maine.
Forty-five percent in the UNH poll said Hassan should be re-elected, while 25 percent said someone else should be governor.
Last week one potential challenger, Republican Kevin Smith, runnerup in the 2012 GOP gubernatorial primary, took himself out of the running by accepting the job of town manager in Londonderry.
Another potential challenger, Republican state Sen. Chuck Morse of Salem, is widely unknown in the state.
“Currently, 9 percent of New Hampshire adults have a favorable opinion of Morse, 4 percent have an unfavorable opinion, 8 percent are neutral and 79 percent don’t know enough to say,” the UNH poll said of Morse.
There is some manuevering around the Congressional contests.
Republican former Congressman Frank Guinta is considering a rematch with Democratic 1st District Congressman Carol Shea-Porter, a Democrat. Guinta could see a GOP primary with UNH business school dean Daniel Innis.
Democratic 2nd District Congressman Anne McLane Kuster, also a Democrat, may be challenged by controversial Republican former New Hampshire House speaker William O’Brien.
Biden, meanwhile, may be helping Hassan for a reason.
He has his eyes on the White House in 2016, though currently standing second to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the Democratic side.
Republican Congressman Peter King of New York was in New Hampshire this week, while Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas is speaking in the state later this month.
Even 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney is back on stage, appearing at a sold-out state party fundraiser tonight in Wolfeboro.
Scala said the political scene is playing out on two levels right now, one being the 2014 race and the other 2016, when Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte also is up for re-election.
For Cruz, taking a longer look, it’s a chance to meet activisits, Scala said.
“For somebody like Cruz, this is not a heavy investment of time,” he said.
For those looking to next year, it’s close to decision time.
“Toward the end of the beginning,” Scala describes it.
Candidates need to start raising funds for statewide races next year, he said.
“We’re getting to the end where people make up their mind about what they are going to do.”