EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

New Hampshire

January 18, 2008

State congressional races could be pivotal

The New Hampshire presidential primary is over, but three more political contests could become the focus of national attention, according to several observers.

"Certainly, Democrats have this highlighted as one of the most important (states) for them," said University of New Hampshire pollster Andrew Smith.

In November, first-term Republican Sen. John Sununu is up for re-election as are first-term Democratic Reps. Paul Hodes and Carol Shea-Porter.

And with control of the U.S. House and Senate at stake, both parties will focus their attention and their money courting independent-minded New Hampshire voters, Smith said.

State Democratic Party spokeswoman Pia Carusone said she expects the cost of the Senate race alone could total as much as $40 million by Election Day in November.

That's not entirely good news, said Fergus Cullen, chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party.

"(Out-of-state groups) are going to play an unprecedented role. I'm disappointed and disturbed about it," Cullen said. "They're allegedly not coordinated (with campaigns) and all that, but as a practical matter, often the left hand knows exactly what the right hand is doing."

Cullen has seen an out-of-state group operating in New Hampshire for more than a year now, and he doesn't like it. The Washington, D.C., group Americans United for Change has run radio and TV advertisements in New Hampshire attacking Sununu.

The group already has spent more than $150,000 on ads in New Hampshire, said spokesman Jeremy Funk. But Funk argues that Americans United won't actually change public opinion during the election.

"We are not (legally) allowed to run ads, paid advertising, I believe 90 days ahead of the primary or the general election," Funk said. "Do you even remember the (political ads) that were running three weeks ago? I mean, think about three months ago."

Americans United, Funk said, is trying to pressure Sununu into changing his positions on issues like the war in Iraq and stem cell research.

Regardless of whether that particular group will influence the upcoming election, Smith of UNH said outside groups will spend lavish sums on New Hampshire's U.S. House and Senate races.

And from the perspective of New Hampshire's changing demographics, the races for Shea-Porter's 1st Congressional District seat and Sununu's Senate seat could be extremely close, Smith said.

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