Democrats eye pickups in NH races

Democrats see a couple of pickup opportunities in New Hampshire, with two strong candidates running uncontested in Tuesday’s primaries.

Incumbent Republican Reps. Frank Guinta and Charlie Bass are expected to win their primary contests. Their two Democratic challengers have already been decided: Both Carol Shea-Porter, running against Guinta, and Ann Kuster, running against Bass, went uncontested.

The races are rematches from 2010. Democrats have added both Kuster and Shea-Porter to their Red to Blue list, a designation for strong candidates that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee believes can help the party take back control of the House. Both are also receiving support from EMILY’s List, the Democratic PAC that works to elect female candidates who support abortion rights.

Guinta toppled Shea-Porter by a 12-percentage-point margin in 2010, but that was during a wave election, when Republicans nationwide were booting incumbent Democrats out of office.

This time around, the race is more of a toss-up, with most recent polls giving Shea-Porter a slight lead over Guinta. He hopes, however, that his focus on jobs and constituent services — he’s scheduled a number of job fairs in the area and holds frequent town halls on the issue — will win him the election. Shea-Porter has thus far focused more broadly on the Republican-controlled House rather than Guinta’s policies in particular, though that will likely change as the race heats up.

Though the battles are close, due to the insularity of the New Hampshire political community, they’re not likely to be as fierce as some hotly contested seats in other states. Kuster and Bass consider themselves friends, and thus far both have largely refrained from waging withering attacks.

But Republican policies are not off limits in the left-leaning state, and Kuster has already begun to hammer Bass for his support of vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPelosi: 'Thug' Putin not welcome in Congress Interior fast tracks study of drilling's Arctic impact: report Dems unveil slate of measures to ratchet up pressure on Russia MORE (R-Wis.) in general and his budget plan in particular. She’s also sought to make Bass’s stance on Social Security an issue, accusing him of supporting privatization of the program while he was in office — an assertion the nonpartisan PolitiFact has rated “mostly false.”

In an effort to retain his seat, Bass has touted his efforts to buck the Republican establishment, including his support for EPA clean air regulations and his vote against a Republican-backed bill to reverse defense cuts due to sequestration.

Bass won the seat in 2010 by only about 4,000 votes, and most recent polls indicate the race is a toss-up, meaning there’s still considerable room for either candidate to move ahead in advance of November.

And though the issues haven’t been raised yet, potentially potent in both races is the designation of “Most Corrupt,” given to both Guinta and Bass in 2011 by nonprofit good-government group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

CREW awarded the designation to Guinta for thousands of dollars in contributions he made to his own campaign, with no explanation of where the funds came from, considering his personal financial disclosures seemed to indicate he didn’t have the funds for such a donation. And Bass received the label for “seeking preferential treatment” for a business owned by his nephew and obscuring his own financial interests in the company.

Neither Kuster’s nor Shea-Porter’s campaign has highlighted the controversies, although with close races in both districts, they’re not likely to fly under the radar for long.

And this is one state in which turnout could drastically affect the race. The state leans Democratic, and most recent polls give President Obama a slight lead over Mitt Romney, but it’s considered competitive and will likely see organizing efforts from both the Romney and Obama campaigns to boost turnout. 

If Democrats are simply able to send their supporters to the polls in larger numbers than Republicans, they could have a good chance at taking back both seats.