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Granite Status: Trump, Sununu factors make redistricting job trickier

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HERE’S A NEW wrinkle that those overseeing redistricting in New Hampshire will have to consider in coming months.

Has former President Donald Trump changed the political map for the Granite State and other battleground states for decades to come? Or was he a streaking comet, whose impact on the election of others down ballot will burn out?

The answers to these questions have real election consequences.

It raises the stakes on decisions map drawers make for each voting district.

Trump’s newfound appeal expanded the reach of the Republican Party in rural communities.

Despite losing twice here, Trump ran up the score in small town New Hampshire.

The reverse was true in the suburbs, as the foundation of GOP strength petered away or became unpredictable when Trump was atop the ballot.

In November, Trump lost Bedford and Merrimack, two of the most reliable, rock-ribbed Republican bedroom communities.

You probably have to go back to FDR days to find a time when Republicans even struggled to win there.

Here’s another twist.

Republican redistricting leaders, in deciding to discount or downgrade Trump’s performance, could focus instead on the voting appeal of Gov. Chris Sununu.

Be careful now.

You’d be looking at the opposite phenomenon, analyzing returns from an election in which a hugely popular Sununu beat an articulate, well-financed Democratic opponent in Dan Feltes of Concord by more than 2-1.

Sununu won Bedford with 72% of the vote, Merrimack with 70%.

This isn’t the new, partisan normal in New Hampshire either.

If it were, it would be 18 — not 14 — Republicans in the state Senate and 280 — not 213 — Republicans in the state House of Representatives.

A primary, a rematch

The fields appear set for the two upcoming special elections in the N.H. House.

The filing period ended last Friday to replace the late Reps. David Danielson, R-Bedford, and former House Majority Leader Doug Ley, D-Jaffrey.

The Cheshire District 9 seat Ley held is in a plus-5% Democratic district that includes the towns of Dublin, Harrisville, Jaffrey and Roxbury.

The Democrats should feel optimistic with their candidate, Andrew Maneval of Harrisville.

Maneval ran and lost to Matthew Santonastaso of Rindge in 2020, but that was in a bigger, R-leaning floterial district that included Rindge and Fitzwilliam. In losing that race by less than 450 votes, Maneval still won Dublin, Harrisville and Roxbury.

The Republicans will have a primary with Rita Mattson, a Trump supporter-activist from Dublin, facing Lucille Decker of Jaffrey.

The primary will be Sept. 7. The general election will be Oct. 26.

The race to replace Danielson will be a rematch of sorts.

Republican Linda Camerota won one of Bedford’s six House seats in 2018, but she did not run two years later. Camerota also served on the school board.

Finishing eighth in that 2018 race was Democrat Catherine Rombeau, about 500 votes behind Camerota.

Bombeau was elected to the town council, and she finished ninth in a 2020 bid for a House seat.

As their party’s only candidates, they will face off in a winner-take-all contest the day after Labor Day.

Curiously, town officials requested the special election to fill this seat in time so that the election, without a primary, could have been Aug. 26.

The request didn’t get to the state Executive Council in time, and the delay pushed the earliest primary date off for two weeks.

Why does this matter?

Two reasons. The first is an August primary might have been instructive for those seeking the legislation (HB 98) now on Sununu’s desk that would move the state primary every two years to the first Tuesday in August.

Sununu appears poised to veto the measure, since Secretary of State Bill Gardner doesn’t want to alter a September primary New Hampshire has had since 1910.

Would an August primary have proven Gardner’s argument that an August election would get poor turnout while voters’ minds are on summer vacations? We’ll never know.

The second reason is holding a special election the day after a holiday puts even more importance on the get-out-the-vote effort.

In Bedford, that’s a fair fight for the GOP, though state Democrats have shown the ability to defeat the odds and win one when the turnout is subpar.

COVID helped two funds

The final month for state revenues was instructive for two accounts beyond the General Fund that finances state government.

Those are the Fish and Game and Highway Funds.

What a difference a pandemic can make.

A few years back, the Fish and Game Fund was literally living hand to mouth, often needing a handout from the general treasury to stay afloat.

Then COVID-19 happened and people “rediscovered” the outdoors.

State budget writers had expected fishing and hunting licenses and other revenues would bring in $12.9 million in the year ending last June 30. They generated $15.8 million.

At the other end of the spectrum was the Highway Fund, hit even harder as so many people worked from home. This dramatically cut down on commuting miles, meaning lower proceeds from the gasoline tax.

For the year, the highway fund brought in $15 million less than expected.

It would have been much worse, if not for a recovering auto sales market that brought auto registrations, inspections and miscellaneous fees in on target.

Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, was well aware of the Highway Fund’s trend. That’s why he put into the final budget deal a $50 million donation from the General Fund to the Highway Fund over the next two years.

Rousing the base

U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Tex., is one prominent Republican who is not, right now at least, looking at running for the White House in 2024.

But the sold-out Grafton County GOP event held outside the district in Concord showed the Grand Old Party’s activist base is still fired up.

“Lots of energy in the room behind NH’s booming economy, increased educational opportunities, and real property tax relief for Granite State families included in the budget,” Sununu tweeted after the event.

Crenshaw, a former Navy Seal, said he first accepted an invitation to come to the state to help a nonprofit effort for the Seals that Good Morning New Hampshire radio talk show host Jack Heath championed last week.

“So, don’t read too much into it. I love being up here, though. It’s great to see the people of New Hampshire,” Crenshaw said during a WMUR-TV interview.The dominoes will fall

All political eyes are on Sununu as we wait to see whether he’ll confirm a U.S. Senate run in 2022.

What about a titanic GOP primary for governor if Sununu says yes?

Former U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., spoke at the Crenshaw event.

The Nashua lawyer has been a reliable face in the crowd when more than 50 Republicans have gotten together in the past few months.

There’s Senate President Morse, who recently had a fundraiser that brought in more than $250,000. He has always eyed a run for the corner office.

Finally, we have Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut of Wilton, who came within a whisker of knocking off Sununu in the 2016 GOP primary.

Brent Littlefield, a Maine native and Edelblut’s Washington-based consultant in that 2016 race, has been checking in to take the Granite State temperature of late.

Littlefield could get even more busy now that former Maine Gov. Paul LePage announced he’s running again next year to try to unseat Democratic Gov. Janet Mills.

He helped LePage win both in 2010 and 2014.

Would three big-foot Republican candidates be a crowd?

“I think two of the three would decide to run and one wouldn’t,” said a top GOP operative. “The question is, who would defer to who?”

Ex-leader faces sentence

Coos County Superior Court Judge Peter Bornstein on Tuesday will decide the sentence for former Senate Democratic Leader Jeff Woodburn, who was convicted on four domestic violence charges (Woodburn was acquitted on five other charges).

All revolve around allegations of abuse against a woman during incidents in late 2017 and mid-2018.

Senior Assistant Attorney General Geoffrey Ward is recommending Woodburn serve 60 days in county jail to send the message that he is punished for committing “multiple acts of domestic violence.”

Woodburn’s lawyer said he should be given a suspended sentence.

He has submitted letters of support from Liz Charlwood, Woodburn’s ex-wife, and his current girlfriend, former Manchester state Rep. Patty Dwyer.

Push to raise wage

Two liberal commentators hosted an event last week at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College to promote a raise in the federal minimum wage, especially to help hospitality workers.

Appearing were Jamal Simmons, an MSNBC contributor and past presidential campaign aide, and Sally Kohn, a CNN contributor and author.

The “New Hampshire Women and the Economy” event was hosted by more than 20 local and national groups.

“New Hampshire might be the linchpin for the entire control of the Senate,” Simmons said. “Working women voters will determine the fate of that Senate race.”

Both Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Hassan opposed legislation to raise the minimum wage, saying though they support the cause, now is not the right time.

Surveys show four in five restaurant workers backed getting a $15 minimum wage with tips on top, rather than the current low minimum they now receive.

“I can promise you that no one in this state can afford to live for $7.25 an hour, let alone $3.27. We have to do better,” said Rep. Sherry Frost, D-Dover.

Rachel Lee, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, said it’s ironic the group would pick New Hampshire to make its big-government stand.

“By and large, New Hampshire is the national standard for pro-business and worker policies under the Republican leadership of Chris Sununu,” Lee said.

“As women and minorities across the country are facing constant setbacks thanks to Joe Biden’s failures, the Granite State has the lowest unemployment rate in the nation and workers are thriving.”