N.H. Senate hopeful thinks voters will see his work ethic, not his age

Washington policy advocate David Nassar remembers working with Portsmouth Mayor Steve Marchand in 2002 as the two tried to get Democratic state Sen. Mark Fernald elected governor of New Hampshire.

They lost that race. But Nassar said it left a lasting impression on him all the same, thanks to his friend’s work ethic.
Marchand, who just turned 33 in January, is now preparing to challenge Republican Sen. John Sununu. And the young mayor says his tireless work habit is just one of the assets he’s bringing to the race.

As a case in point, Nassar points to Marchand’s first city council race in Portsmouth, when the underdog candidate went to the Portsmouth City Clerk’s office and got a copy of the town’s voter file. Using Microsoft Excel, Marchand revised and updated the list before going door to door to identify voters and introduce himself.

“Because there really wasn’t a very good list available, Steve built it himself,” Nassar said. “Very few people would’ve done them both and done them well.”

In a phone interview with The Hill, Marchand said he is ready to apply statewide the same techniques and hard work that took him from the city council to the mayor’s office.

Marchand describes himself as a fiscal conservative and a social progressive, and he speaks passionately and at length about his ideas — from fighting the war on terror to revamping the payroll tax.

Despite his tender age, Marchand insists he has the policy background, the grassroots network and the fundraising abilities to compete against a senator with a popular last name and enough money to bury his opponents.

The mayor filed to run last month, and he has hired Dave Mason, who served as finance director for Rep. Paul Hodes (D-N.H.) in his successful race against Republican Rep. Charlie Bass last year.

Given that Sununu will likely raise staggering funds in his reelection bid — the Club for Growth endorsed the senator in February — Marchand said it is important to get in the race early to start raising money.

“I think this race might’ve accelerated a lot sooner than some might’ve guessed,” he said.

And before taking on Sununu, Marchand is almost assured of a primary challenge.

Former congressional candidate Katrina Swett, whose husband Dick is a former ambassador popular in New England, has already filed to run, and a number of other names have been mentioned as potential candidates, including Stonyfield Yogurt CEO Gary Hirschberg.

But Marchand said he doesn’t anticipate a nasty primary fight, as the field will unite around the ultimate goal of defeating Sununu.

If either Gov. John Lynch or former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen jumps in, however, Marchand said he would “step aside and say, ‘What can I do to help you?’”

Fergus Cullen, chairman of the New Hampshire GOP, said that the lingering uncertainty about those two heavyweight names could present problems for candidates like Marchand and Swett as they seek to line up early support.

“I suspect they’re getting a lot of half-commitments from people,” Cullen said.

He added that Marchand, whose accomplishments seem impressive at such a young age, has yet to be challenged on a statewide stage.

Cullen pointed out there is no at-large citywide race for mayor of Portsmouth. Instead, the city councilman who garners the most votes gets the title. Furthermore, the mayor’s position in the small but heavily Democratic seaside town is relatively weak, overshadowed by the importance and responsibilities of the city manager.

“Sen. Sununu is a tested candidate who has been through some very tough races in the past,” Cullen said.

For his part, Marchand has already directly targeted Sununu on Iraq. In a release after the Senate’s recent failed cloture vote to debate the non-binding Iraq resolution passed by the House, he charged that Sununu’s vote against cloture was “radically out-of-touch with the people of New Hampshire.”

Marchand also points to the two most recent elections in the Granite State as favorable signs. Voters went for Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) over President Bush in 2004. The 2006 midterms saw Hodes beat Bass, while little-known candidate Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D) defeated incumbent Republican Rep. Jeb Bradley.

He said those midterm results “created a choice for Sen. Sununu, and that choice was to move to the values of the New Hampshire people or continue to move to the values of President Bush.”

Marchand said he opposes the proposed troop surge and favors drawing down troops in Iraq over the next one to two years. He would pare back funding “commensurately” with the troop withdrawals.

He said he does not support a complete withdrawal but a stabilization plan for Iraq that is more akin to the Marshall Plan following World War II. But he admits it may be too late for such an action in a country in the midst of what he describes as a civil war.

“We did break it, so we did buy it,” Marchand said, but added, “I’m not sure our presence is helping to alleviate or resolve the many problems Iraq has and will continue to have.”

He said he would insist on continuing a tough fight in the war on terror, but one that involves redeployment to other countries like Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, Sununu’s office said the senator has not been afraid to break with the president on a number of issues like the Patriot Act, the federal marriage amendment, Medicare Part D and the highway bill. As for the Iraq resolution vote, Sununu argues that he voted against cloture primarily because Democrats were not going to allow debate on any alternative GOP measures.

“I have been critical of several aspects of the administration’s policy in Iraq and the Middle East; but our goal should be to get the policy right without partisan grandstanding,” he said in a statement issued at the time.

As for the 2008 contest, Sununu’s office has responded with the same statement for months.

“As they have always been, our campaign in 2008 will be an aggressive town to town, person to person effort — strong on grassroots organization and focused on the issues that matter most to New Hampshire citizens,” the statement reads.
Marchand concedes that he has a tough row to hoe, raising money, meeting voters in a statewide campaign, and convincing them he has the experience to serve in the Senate.

But his age, he says, should not be a concern.

Sununu, Marchand points out, is currently the youngest member of the Senate at 42, so voters may get to pick between the youngest United States senator and the youngest candidate.