Sunday, Oct. 31, 2010

New Hampshire's 1st Congressional District: Carol Shea-Porter vs. Frank Guinta

Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter is used to having the odds stacked against her. In 2006, Shea-Porter, a Democrat and anti-Iraq-war activist from New Hampshire's GOP-leaning 1st District, challenged two-term incumbent Republican Representative Jeb Bradley. In what some pundits dubbed the "Cinderella campaign," Shea-Porter garnered a strong grass-roots base, came from behind and defeated Bradley 51% to 49%, becoming the first Granite State woman elected to national office. She overcame another tight race in a 2008 rematch, defeating Bradley by a wider margin, 52% to 46%. But this year, even as New Hampshire benefits from a below-average unemployment rate (5.5%, compared with 9.6% nationally), widespread national disapproval of the majority party may present a hurdle too high for Shea-Porter to overcome. In the latest WMUR-UNH survey, Shea-Porter trails her Republican opponent, former Manchester mayor Frank Guinta, by 12 points.

Over the past several weeks, the candidates have engaged in typical midterm squabbles — Shea-Porter targeting Guinta's finances and "extreme" views on education, energy and abortion, Guinta criticizing Shea-Porter for supporting excessive spending and resorting to character assaults instead of talking about issues.

Taking a cue from Guinta's opponents in the GOP primary, Shea-Porter has continued to raise questions about the former mayor's amended disclosure form, in which he included a previously unreported bank account worth between $250,000 and $500,000. Shea-Porter has called on Guinta to disclose bank statements and explain how he was able to lend $355,000 to his campaign. Guinta dismisses the charges as "personal attacks" and has turned the tables on Shea-Porter, accusing her of breaking her promise to refuse money from corporate PACs and Washington lobbyists. Shea-Porter has accepted donations from labor and union groups, but her campaign manager Rob Moller explained in an interview with the Concord Monitor that "they're not individual registered lobbyists in Washington, D.C."

The two-term Democratic incumbent has continued to rely on the campaigning model she championed in 2006 and is calling on constituents to "rehire" her for a third term. Recognizing his opponent's grass-roots advantage, Guinta has developed a sizable ground game that has benefited from local Tea Party support. As of Oct. 13, Shea-Porter had raised $1,376,480, while Guinta had brought in $950,510.

Guinta, who served as mayor of New Hampshire's largest city from 2006 to 2010, won the GOP nomination after receiving 32% of the vote in the Sept. 14 primary. Prior to becoming mayor, he served as an alderman and state representative. Throughout his congressional campaign, he has presented himself as a spending cutter with a tough-on-crime and tax-cutting record. He supports the elimination of the Departments of Education and Energy and opposes Roe v. Wade. And his biggest gripe with Shea-Porter is what he labels a failure to live up to the state's "Live free or die" motto.

"We expect that government is limited and effective," Guinta said in an interview with TIME. "What Carol has supported in the last two years is an expansion of government, supporting Obamacare, supporting this debt and this deficit, and it's just not what people want." Like others in her party, Shea-Porter has tried to foil GOP efforts to fault Democrats for the current economic conditions by hyping the benefits of the majority party's policies, while also asserting her independence and underscoring where she's opposed Democrat leaders. Shea-Porter, a House Armed Services Committee member, has backed legislation to expand veterans' benefits and supported the health care and energy bills as well as the stimulus package. But she opposed the extension of TARP and has stood against the Obama Administration on Afghanistan strategy by opposing the increase of troops in the country and on the issue of civilian trials for Gitmo detainees, saying, "We would do better to allow the military to have their trials."

"They seem to have totally forgotten that actually what happened was, businesses were failing all on their own," Shea-Porter said of Republicans in an interview with TIME. "Banks were in trouble all on their own, and insurance companies were in trouble all on their own, and auto industries were in trouble all on their own. It was the policies that we enacted that saved these industries," she continued.

No longer an outsider candidate — the former Cinderella of politics is now combating what she calls the Republican "fairy tale" and "revisionist history." But the politics-prognosticator website predicts Guinta will have the happy ending — defeating Shea-Porter by a healthy 54.1% to 43.8%