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With support ebbing, N.H. rep. Frank Guinta faces unsettled future

Representative Frank Guinta (right), Republican of New Hampshire, defeated Democratic incumbent Carol Shea-Porter in 2014, but a campaign finance violation has put his political future in question. “Frank Guinta is a damned liar,” said an editorial Friday in the conservative-leaning New Hampshire Union Leader.
Representative Frank Guinta (right), Republican of New Hampshire, defeated Democratic incumbent Carol Shea-Porter in 2014, but a campaign finance violation has put his political future in question. “Frank Guinta is a damned liar,” said an editorial Friday in the conservative-leaning New Hampshire Union Leader.(Jim Cole/Associated Press/File 2014)

Just last year, US Representative Frank Guinta of New Hampshire found much-needed support from fellow Republicans to mount a political comeback and win his election. He will probably have to fight his next battle all alone.

After five years of denying wrongdoing, Guinta was found by the Federal Election Commission to have accepted $355,000 in illegal contributions from his parents. He has said the money he used for his first congressional campaign was also his, but now Guinta must refund the full sum to his parents and pay a $15,000 fine.

But it gets worse. On Friday, the conservative publisher of the New Hampshire Union Leader ran a six-word editorial with his picture: “Frank Guinta is a damned liar.” The state’s highest-ranking Republican, US Senator Kelly Ayotte, described the incident as “serious and troubling.” Former US Representative Jeb Bradley, a Republican who once employed Guinta on his staff, said Guinta “is on a pretty lonely island” these days.

If and how Guinta wages this battle could have significant consequences for him and others.

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If he resigns, it would trigger a special election for the US House amid the state’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary. If Guinta seeks reelection, he would very likely face a nasty primary fight and general election, putting the GOP at risk of ceding the seat to Democrats in November 2016. If he decides not to run again, another Republican could run — and former Massachusetts US Senator Scott Brown just tweeted a picture of his new condo from Guinta’s district.

In 2010, Guinta rode the Tea Party wave to win New England’s most fought-over US House district. Two years later, New Hampshire voted for President Obama and Guinta’s opponent, Democrat Carol Shea-Porter. Guinta sought the seat again in 2014, and he won.

But Guinta faced a significant GOP primary challenge in his latest run. He called in favors for a kick-off fund-raiser. He lured his party’s former nominee for vice president, US Representative Paul Ryan, to return to New Hampshire for the first time since the presidential contest to keynote the fund-raiser. Ayotte put her name on the invitation, which Guinta argued meant Capitol Hill Republicans had his back.

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But after the FEC findings, Republicans in Washington and New Hampshire aren’t running to his side. The state Republican Party has been silent, and so has US House Speaker John Boehner.

In a statement, Ayotte called the FEC findings “serious and troubling,” and said Guinta should not only “repay the money and the fine levied against him, but he must also fully explain and account to the people of New Hampshire for his actions.”

Guinta, a former mayor of Manchester, first ran in 2010 for the seat from the First District, which roughly includes the eastern half of the state. Since then, Guinta has been dogged by questions and investigations into the source of the $355,000 he loaned to his campaign. He said it was his money, but his required financial-disclosure forms showed he didn’t have that kind of cash.

Later on in his first race, Guinta amended his financial report to add a checking account with at least $250,000. When asked, he never provided proof of these funds to the press.

Over the following years, the Federal Election Commission, US House Ethics Committee, and the US Attorney in New Hampshire investigated Guinta’s fund-raising. But the inquries didn’t yield anything conclusive until recently.

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In a statement, Guinta said, “As I have maintained throughout the entire duration of this long, bureaucratic process with the Federal Election Commission, I made a reporting error,” Guinta said in a statement. “Likewise, I have always maintained the money I lent myself was, in fact, money I had generated since the early 1970s. I met with key members of the Granite State press corps as soon as I returned home from Washington to demonstrate to them that the money was — and is — in fact mine. I look forward to closing this issue so that I can move on and continue my work as New Hampshire’s representative to Washington.”

But influential members of his home state party are waiting to hear more.

“I read Frank’s explanation, and obviously the FEC doesn’t agree with it, but I think it is more plausible than the explanation we got from the New England Patriots on deflategate,” said Mark Vincent, chairman of the Hillsborough County Republican Committee. “I think the silence is because we are waiting to see how this process plays out and what else he says.”

But on Friday, New Hampshire Republicans started to focus on how to move on without Guinta. In phone calls, they strategized on whom they should encourage to run for his seat in 2016. They want a strong candidate alongside Ayotte, who faces a tough race.

“The Republican power elite are looking for a way to save the seat,” said University of New Hampshire political science professor Dante Scala. “I don’t think any of them are looking for a way to save Frank Guinta.”

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James Pindell can be reached at James.Pindell@globe.com.