Mayor closer to gunning for Rep. Shea-Porter's seat

Republicans appear to have landed their top recruit to take on Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.) as Manchester Mayor Frank Guinta continues to take steps toward running.

Last week, Guinta filed to form an exploratory committee with the Federal Election Commission and, in an interview, said Shea-Porter has fallen out of touch with New Hampshire's fiscally conservative mindset by backing Democratic spending policies.

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"She feels that the way to create prosperity and jobs in the country is to borrow more money," Guinta said. "And that is in stark contrast to the 'live free or die' mentality of New Hampshire and it is in stark contrast to the frugal approach New Hampshire families usually take."

If he runs, and it increasingly looks like he will, Guinta pledged an "aggressive campaign" focused on cutting taxes and cracking down on crime - two areas where he believes he has a proven record from his two terms as mayor. A spokesman for Guinta said there will be a formal announcement about the race in the next 10 days.

Guinta and national Republicans see an opportunity in the 1st District race, which Charlie Cook recently rated as even in his Partisan Vote Index. Guinta said Shea-Porter benefited from a very Democratic environment in 2006, when she first defeated Guinta's former boss, Rep. Jeb Bradley (R), and in 2008, when Shea-Porter beat Bradley again.

"In 2006 and 2008, the Democratic Party described their victories as Democratic sweeps and tides," Guinta said. "What they mean by that is not every Democrat who won should have won."

"You see comments now from Democratic leaders anticipating losses," Guinta went on. "They are having challenges raising money and they know they are going to lose some seats."

Republicans also point to Shea-Porter's paltry first-quarter fundraising. The Democrat raised only $130,000 and finished with $121,000 cash on hand, one of the weakest performances of any vulnerable House Democrat.

Guinta's candidacy would also represent one of the National Republican Congressional Committee's new strategies. NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas) is seeking to recruit community leaders - mayors, city councilors and members of county governments - who have already developed their own local political brand.

Shea-Porter doesn't appear to be focusing on Guinta's potential challenge yet. Jamie Radice, a spokeswoman for the Democrat, said the congresswoman isn't considering politics at this time.

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"Congresswoman Shea-Porter is focused on serving the people of New Hampshire and doesn't have time to pay attention to political chatter," Radice said.

Local observers say Guinta will be a strong candidate but cautioned against the Republican argument that Shea-Porter skated into office and through reelection on Democratic tides. Dante Scala, a political scientist at the University of New Hampshire, said running for Congress would be a logical next step for Guinta and that he’ll be a strong candidate. But Scala added that Shea-Porter has proved to be a savvy politician.

"Certainly in 2006 she benefited from the anti-Republican wave, but in 2008 she didn't really lose much of the lead she had," Scala said. "She's held up her own end. It wasn't as if the race between Shea-Porter and Bradley was particularly close and Obama pulled her over the line."

Indeed, Shea-Porter defeated Bradley by a larger margin in 2008 - 6 percent - than she did in 2006 - 2 percent.

Scala also said that Guinta may look better on paper than he may turn out. In particular, Republicans will try to capitalize on Guinta having a base in Manchester, the largest city in the district, Scala said, but Guinta won't automatically carry the city.

"Manchester is a big base in the district and it is a major city," Scala said. "But it's not as if he can turn his back on Manchester and it's not as if it’s in the bank for him in the general election."

Manchester Democrats will likely target Guinta early to weaken his campaign. "Ray Buckley, the state Democratic Party chair," Scala said, "is from Manchester will go after him."

In fact, Buckley is already setting his sights on Guinta. In an e-mail, he fired away at him.

"While Carol Shea Porter has been working to revive our economy and put people back to work, Frank Guinta has spent his time ignoring the needs of Manchester and looking toward higher office," Buckley said. "Having failed as mayor of Manchester, he's now walking away from the challenges of City Hall. Congresswoman Shea-Porter handily defeated his former boss Jeb Bradley twice just as she will defeat him."