A CVO Coronation Or A Free-For-All In NH's 2nd Congressional District?

March 29, 2024 0 By JohnValbyNation

CONCORD, NH — It should be no surprise to anyone who follows politics in New Hampshire that former District 2 Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern is to be the first Democrat out of the gate to run for the open 2nd Congressional District seat.

According to timestamps on emails to Patch, Van Ostern issued a lengthy statement praising U.S. Rep. Ann McLane Kuster, D-NH, 17 minutes after she told the media Wednesday she was not running for re-election in 2024. Twenty-six hours later, he announced a run for the open seat.

It is easy to suspect there was prior knowledge or even collusion in the announcements.

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Van Ostern, who missed winning the corner office in 2016 against Chris Sununu and mounted an ill-fated run (barely) for secretary of state against Bill Gardner in 2018, jumped into the race Thursday with a short statement and a letter to supporters, saying he wanted to fix problems and make the federal government work for everyday people and middle-class families.

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“We’re all exhausted by fringe extremists trying to tear us apart while powerful interests rig the system for themselves,” he said. “But we can and must fix this — and the way to do it is by putting people first for a change.”

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His first order of business will be to approve a national law to “protect reproductive rights — from IVF & birth control to abortion access — and by getting serious about cutting household costs like housing, higher ed, healthcare, and childcare,” all feel-good liberal positions (or “fringe extremist,” if you’re a pro-life Republican).

Van Ostern’s announcement came as no surprise to politicos in the state. But he is not alone. A day after Kuster’s announcement, at least two dozen Democrats have been mentioned as possibilities to run for the open seat. They include Van Ostern, state Sens. Becky Whitley of Hopkinton, Sue Prentiss of West Lebanon, Cindy Rosenwald of Nashua, and Donovan Fenton of Keene; Molly Kelly of Keene, a former Senator and gubernatorial candidate; former Mayor Jim Bouley of Concord and current Keene Mayor Jay Kahn; former gubernatorial candidate and District 2 Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky and District 5 Executive Councilor Debora Pignatelli of Nashua; Kayla Montgomery, the vice president of public affairs at Planned Parenthood; and state Reps. Angela Brennan of Bow, Rebecca McWilliams of Concord, and Laura Telereski of Nashua; former state Senate candidate Melanie Levesque of Nashua; Cinde Warmington, the current District 2 executive councilor running for the open governor’s seat along with former Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig and restauranter Jonathan Kiper; Gary Hirshberg, the founder of Stonyfield Yogurt where Van Ostern used to work is also in the mix as is Byron Champlin, the new mayor of Concord. Maura Sullivan, a veteran and Obama administration official who did not live in the district and ran unsuccessfully for the 1st Congressional District seat six years ago (she placed second), has also been mentioned, as has Levi Sanders, who also ran in 2018 for the open 1st seat and placed seventh.

McWilliams confirmed she was considering a run.

The Concord attorney, wife, and mother, who represents Wards 5, 6, 7, and 8 in a floterial district in the House, praised Kuster, saying she did “an amazing job” and her work was “not complete.” McWilliams praised the representative’s work on opioids on the federal level. She also said extending the child tax credit permanently and possibly putting it beyond 18 to cover college students was important. Housing, too, was a crisis in New Hampshire, and help from the federal government was needed.

“I see a void,” McWilliams said of Kuster’s exit, “and that’s concerning.”

McWilliams added Kuster “provided an important voice on health care” and whoever was elected needed to continue “to champion the right to bodily autonomy as a human right.”

Jay Surdukowski, a Concord attorney who ran for executive council four years ago, said his name was floated, too, but he is not running. On Twitter-X, he posted a fairly comprehensive list of names that were being passed around hours after the announcement.

Another Democrat who will not be running but whose name was mentioned as someone who might make a good candidate was Lebanon City Councilor Karen Liot Hill.

Hill, who has been on the county for about two decades and spent eight years as the Grafton County treasurer, is the frontrunner right now for the soon-to-be vacant District 2 executive council seat. She is sticking with that race.

“I do know that we have a very deep bench of qualified people in CD2, and I’m happy to be considered among (them) … One thing is certain: the people of CD2 will be well-represented by Annie’s successor.”

Hill also called Kuster “an incredible Congresswoman” who really worked hard for the district’s constituents.

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“We will definitely miss her,” she added.

Warmington did not return an email seeking comment about the race and appeared to be sticking to the gubernatorial run, since the campaign was still sending out press releases about the run as of Thursday.

Many others did not return emails or phone calls seeking comment.

No Diversity, Equity, And Inclusion For Dems?

Even before Van Ostern announced, there were concerns privately raised by the politerati in Concord and Nashua — two places that will probably decide the results of the primary, due to their populations, that Democrats would nominate another white man to Congress and a straight one, to boot.

New Hampshire’s other Representative to Congress is Chris Pappas, in the 1st, a white man who is openly gay.

Van Ostern is a formidable opponent with prior elected experience and statewide fundraising prowess dating back more than two decades when he worked as a press flak for John Edwards’ presidential campaign. He also worked on Kuster’s first unsuccessful campaign. His announcement praising Kuster and now, a day later, announcing a run appeared to be moves that could result in a coronation. Or, if enough candidates get into the race, it could be a free-for-all.

Democrats in New Hampshire have never nominated a person of color to a Congressional seat despite talking a good game about the issue and it being at the forefront of many candidates and party elder agendas. Only Republicans have nominated them: Marilinda Garcia, a former GOP state Representative from Salem, was the GOP nominee in 2014 against Kuster, while Jim Lawrence, a former Hudson state representative, was the party’s nominee in 2016 for the 2nd. Eddie Edwards, a former police chief in South Hampton, was the Republican nominee for Congress in the 1st CD in 2018.

Democrats have a long history of women running and winning a lot of races, including those in the governor, Congress, executive council, state Senate, and state representative positions.

Democrats also appear to have been the only party in the state to pressure, even privately, a person of color from running for a Congressional seat.

Joanne Dowdell, a Seacoast businesswoman who is very active in party politics, wanted to run for Congress in 2012 for the 1st seat to challenge Frank Guinta, who defeated Carol Shea-Porter in 2010 after she defeated Guinta in 2006. Andrew Hosmer, a Laconia businessman who would later become mayor and state Senator, was also eyeing the seat, but he dropped out six months before the primary. According to reports, her perceived chances against Shea-Porter were slim — and everyone wanted to help Shea-Porter by not having her be primaried.

So much for “democracy.” And where were Democrats saying to Shea-Porter, “Hey, you already had a few terms; let someone else, including this woman of color, have a shot at it?”

They were nowhere to be found.

Will they be found today? It appears not.

That has raised some concerns privately with politicians and activists who support DEI initiatives. They see the nomination of Van Ostern, a straight, white man, who is also from the Ivy League, having attended Dartmouth, as the height of hypocrisy: How can Democrats lecture everyone else about the need to create frameworks for organizational restructuring, often taking something from one to provide for another, when they will not embrace the action themselves and sacrifice, too? One even suggested Van Ostern, a long-time organizer, should step aside and help a woman or person of color to run and win.

When asked about these issues, as well as collusion with Kuster, Van Ostern did not return a request for comment.

None of the half dozen Democrats who spoke privately with Patch about the race and DEI issues would comment publicly either.

The GOP Reacts … And Some Were Running Already

According to Ballotpedia, at least five Republicans were running for the 2nd Congressional seat before Kuster announced she was stepping down.

Now that there is an open seat, there are bound to be more candidates entering who might think Republicans have a shot at the seat previously held by moderate Charlie Bass, between 1995 and 2007, and again between 2011 and 2013. In the hundred years between 1913 and 2013, only two Democrats were elected to the seat (Paul Hodes and Dick Swett).

Will they get lucky without the Kuster juggernaut on the ballot in 2024?

Lily Tang Williams, who placed third in 2022 in a seven-candidate field, with about 16,000 votes, announced she was running again last year. An immigrant from China who moved to the United States in the late 1980s, she bills herself as a “Survivor of Mao’s Cultural Revolution” and the GOP “frontrunner” in 2024. Williams thanked Kuster for her service, saying she hoped all was well with her and her family. She is, however, “energized” that voters in the district “will be offered a choice based on issues rather than incumbency.”

Williams said, “As a legal immigrant who worked hard to earn my citizenship, I believe it is critical that we re-establish our nation’s border security to protect our northern and southern borders, reduce government deficit spending, control inflation, and develop all energy resources within a free market economy.”

William also ran for Congress as a Libertarian candidate in 2016 when she lived in Colorado.

Mark Kilbane, a businessman and veteran, who ran for the GOP nomination in the 1st Congressional District in 2022, placing ninth, is also running for the GOP nomination in the 2nd in 2024.

He said Kuster’s retirement “will transpire much as her career, with few noticing it” since she was “a quiet representative who never made waves.” At the same time, he said, it would be good to have a change in Congress from someone who votes “in lockstep with disastrous Biden administration policies” that have “punished” Granite Staters with high gas prices, exorbitant grocery bills, a severe border crisis, plummeting academic scores in schools, soaring teen depression, and national malaise.

“I’m running as a dynamic leader who will lower taxes, raise academic standards, and lift the voices of the Second Congressional District on the national stage, reminding proud New Hampshirites to raise their heads, straighten their spines, and live free or die,” Kilbane added.

Other candidates include Robin Ng, Jason Riddle — a Jan. 6 protester who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges, and Paul Wagner.

State Rep. Joe Sweeney, the chairman of Granite Solutions, who recently ran some ads successfully targeting liberal town candidates in Goffstown, also began fundraising off Kuster’s announcement, asking voters if they wanted members of Congress who support “law & order, secure our southern & northern borders, and get federal spending under control” to open up their wallets.

“Representative Kuster’s announced retirement gets us closer to that representation,” he wrote in an email, “but we will need strong and effective Republican nominees who can get the job done.”

Frank Edelblut’s name came up as a candidate some Republicans would like to see. But the education commissioner, who lives in the district, in Wilton, said previously would not be a candidate, preferring to spend more time with his wife now that they are empty nesters. Another name floated by some is DJ Bettencourt, the former Salem majority leader in the house who is now the state insurance commissioner. Nashua Alderman Tyler Gouveia, who worked as a public information officer for the NH DOE with Edelblut for a short period of time, has also been mentioned as a candidate. Former candidates Bob Burns and George Hansel have also been mentioned as well as Stephen Stepanek of Amherst, the former state party chairman and a former state representative.

The leftwing blog Daily Kos said Thursday Kuster’s announcement may put the seat in play or at least give Republicans a fighting chance if they can raise boatloads of money.

The site moved the seat from its 42nd most vulnerable to 14th.

Gerrymandering For Incumbency

The open seat also brings out the issue of redistricting during the last cycle and the fact that, instead of approving truly creative Congressional district maps, Republicans who controlled the House moved a few towns around to give them a better shot of winning the 1st district again and Democrats fought them on it and sued, too.

A court later decided to shift a few communities around and leave the maps the way they were, much to the chagrin of many, including closer deviations and maps that would reflect the need for a refocus. It also preserved a near split down the middle of the state, primarily due to the protecting incumbency, its own form of gerrymandering.

With Kuster deciding to leave now instead of two years ago, the state is stuck with maps with no congruency. They also missed an opportunity to have an urban compact and a rural seat, which had a deviation of 1,027 people, or a southern tier-Seacoast seat and a suburban rural seat, which had a deviation of 440 people.

And what about those illegal mailers from the Massachusetts Democrat mailing company that rigged the 2022 GOP primary? It’s 18 months later, and nothing has been done.

One thing is for sure: It will be an enjoyable political season after all in New Hampshire.

Do you have a news tip? Please email it to tony.schinella@patch.com. View videos on Tony Schinella’s YouTube.com channel or Rumble.com channel. Follow the NH politics Twitter account @NHPatchPolitics for all our campaign coverage.

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