These N.H. candidates can’t stop running against each other
MANCHESTER, N.H. — New Hampshire residents have their seasonal rituals. In the winter, they ski in the White Mountains. In the spring, they tap trees for sugar. In the summer, they visit Hampton Beach. And in every other fall for nearly a decade, they choose between the same two candidates for Congress.
For the fourth election in a row, Republican Frank Guinta and Democrat Carol Shea-Porter will square off in the state’s First District — the swingiest congressional district in the nation.
To say they have history with each other is an understatement. Shea-Porter ousted Guinta’s former boss, Jeb Bradley, in 2006, and defeated him again in 2008. Then Guinta defeated Shea-Porter two years later. She beat him in 2012, and he beat her in 2014.
Now polls taken throughout the last year indicate Shea-Porter is on track to defeat him again in 2016.
“It is the Ping-Pong district of American politics, or maybe we should call it the timeshare district,” said David Wasserman, who analyzes US House races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. “I have seen a lot of House races that have intense rivalries, but this one is pretty remarkable.”
Never before in New Hampshire history have the same two candidates run against each other four times for Congress, much less consecutively. One reason: The First District’s voter registrations are evenly split among Republicans, Independents, and Democrats.
In an interview, Shea-Porter said she wasn’t exactly surprised to see Guinta barely win his Republican primary on Sept. 13, but when asked, she acknowledged that sometimes the race resembles the movie “Groundhog Day.”
In a testament to her familiarity with the race and disdain for her rival, Shea-Porter said, “It is to the point where I know which lie he will finish every sentence with.”
For his part, Guinta said in an interview that he always expected to face Shea-Porter “since she has run for this seat since 2006, so why would she stop now?”
Neither refused to rule out running again in 2018 should they lose — although both said they expect to win in November.
“I don’t look past the election I am in,” Guinta said.
But it’s not just the candidates who might be getting sick of seeing the same person on the debate stage. Some voters also said they are getting tired of this lineup.
“You’d think that we would have other choices by now. It is getting crazy,” said Brian Tobin, a Manchester resident.
Bob Walters, a Republican who works in retail in Manchester, said he is sure the same candidates won’t pair off again.
“There just has to be some new blood that will come along and be interesting,” said Walters, who voted for Guinta’s primary opponent. “We have more people who can run than just the two of them.”
Their fourth matchup makes history in New Hampshire. In five other instances in state history, the same candidates faced off three times, a situation that began with Democrat Daniel Marcy running against Republican Gilman Marston in the 1858, 1860, and 1864 elections. But it’s never happened four times in the state.
A national analysis of historical election results by University of Minnesota professor Eric Ostermeier found that once a candidate gets to the third contest against the same opponent, the situation typically involves an strong incumbent and a challenger who has no chance of winning.
Ostermeier also found the all-time national record for repeat races could have been set in Wisconsin in the early 1900s, when the same opponents faced each other nine times for Congress, including six times in a row.
Earlier this year, it looked as though neither Guinta nor Shea-Porter would run for the seat this year.
Guinta was facing calls to resign from every prominent Republican in the state and major newspaper in the district. After years of saying he did not illegally accept $355,000 in campaign funds from his parents, he reached a settlement with the Federal Election Commission in 2015 that resulted in a fine and him paying all the money back. The settlement served as a tacit admission of guilt, although Guinta maintains he did nothing wrong.
Several quality primary challengers quickly emerged, including one Republican who came close to defeating him two years ago. Eventually Guinta faced off against just one opponent, businessman Rich Ashooh, who ended up losing on Sept. 13.
It was a remarkable comeback for Guinta: Five months earlier, a poll showed just 6 percent of Republicans in the district said they would vote to reelect him.
Shea-Porter also had a rocky relationship with her party’s elite, especially in Washington, D.C., since she came out of nowhere to defeat their preferred candidate in the 2006 Democratic primary. As part of the data breach at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee earlier this year, leaked e-mails show there was an effort to recruit someone else to run instead of Shea-Porter. (When it became clear that Shea-Porter wanted another shot, others stood down.)
But the same committee made a similar effort ahead of the 2012 elections when it tried to recruit Maggie Hassan to run in the First District primary. She decided to run for governor instead, avoiding a primary with Shea-Porter.
In the end, Shea-Porter has proven as tough to beat in a Democratic primary as Guinta is in a Republican primary. That’s how the two have found themselves facing off so many times — and could do so again in the future.
Wasserman, the political analyst, said it is logical that the pair will face off in 2018.
“In 2018, because Republicans do better in midterm elections, it will be a great opportunity for Guinta to win back the seat,” he said.