With 2 months to go, N.H.'s GOP governor primary heats up
CONCORD, N.H. -- September's primary for the Republican nomination for governor pits Walt Havenstein, the party-picked guy and former CEO, against Andrew Hemingway, an upstart tea party activist and entrepreneur. And both will need to rally supporters during the sleepy days of summer.
"Really, it's more of the same," Hemingway said of the next two months, "which is making policy proposals, really rolling out solutions to what we think are New Hampshire's most pressing problems. We have a very broad, diverse network and now it's about networking and getting those folks in line so they turn out on Election Day."
Havenstein said: "I think you'll see me continue to connect to voters through retail politics and taking every opportunity I can to speak with people, not just Republicans, but independents and like-thinking Democrats,"
The two will lean heavily on social media, digital outreach and traditional advertising as they vie for the opportunity to take on the incumbent, Democrat Maggie Hassan.
Hemingway is a 32-year-old businessman who runs Digital Acumen, a tech firm that specializes in political communications. He's been a tea party activist for five years and said that experience helped him develop a grassroots ground game. He'll tell voters that the main difference between his campaign and Havenstein's is that he has put forth specific proposals, such as a room and meals "tax holiday" to entice visitors.
"It's difficult to say (what the differences are) because whereas I've been very forthright, we don't know where Walt stands on a lot of these things," Hemingway said.
Havenstein, 65, was a defense industry executive but points out he was a small businessman before he was a big businessman.
"My top priority as governor is economic development and creating jobs in the private sector," he said. "This is because we have what I have referred to under Maggie Hassan as a 'Walking Dead' economy. We need to breathe life into it, which is what I'm all about. What's relevant about serving as CEO of a state is the ability to lead a large, complex enterprise."
Knocking off a first-term governor is a tall order: Only twice since 1953 has a New Hampshire governor been ousted after one term, and a recent WMUR Granite State Poll by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center found Hassan easily outpacing both Republicans.
Veteran political analyst Dean Spiliotes said the key for both candidates over the next two months will be to better define themselves. For example, Havenstein so far has stressed that as a former business executive, he knows how to manage a large budget and create jobs. But, Spiliotes said, he hasn't come out with specifics on issues such as Medicaid expansion.
And Hemingway needs to raise his profile if he wants to convince voters he's the better alternative to Havenstein.
"He needs to be more visible and needs to kind of explain beyond his role as an activist," he said. "What is he going to do?"
While the tea party had stunning success in Virginia with the defeat last month of Majority Leader Eric Cantor, it may not play all that well here.
"The conventional wisdom is that the more conservative activists would turn out and that would help Hemingway," Spiliotes said. "But in the end, I think a lot of people turn out based on who is more viable. I come down on the side of, even in a low turnout election, viability trumps that sort of activist mentality."
Hemingway would disagree.
"The way we're trying to define it is, it's really about, essentially, a grassroots, New Hampshire campaign versus one that's decided by the upper echelon of the party structure," he said.
Havenstein has the New Hampshire party structure behind him and the support of - and a campaign visit by - New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a possible 2016 presidential candidate. But he scoffs at the notion that he is an establishment candidate.
"It's hard for me to understand since this is the first elected political endeavor I've had in my entire life," he said.
Hemingway argues the link to Christie and other top Republicans will hurt.
"New Hampshire voters don't like being told how to vote, especially Republican primary voters," Hemingway said.
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