Rep. Annie Kuster’s retirement announcement was a surprise. The “horse race” media coverage her departure sparked was not.

But even by the modest standards of 2024 political reporting, coverage of New Hampshire’s Second Congressional District has been widely off the mark.

At NBC News, it’s a “New Hampshire swing district.”

The Washington Post called the district “a competitive one.”

And the Washington Examiner described Kuster as a “top House centrist,” a claim many Republicans (and Kuster’s voting record) would dispute. The Examiner also called NH-02 “one of New Hampshire’s most competitive districts,” which is beyond dispute.

There are only two congressional districts in the state.

Even the respected Cook Political Report has an odd take on the Second District.

“Kuster has never been able to take her own races for granted. In 2012, she ousted Republican Rep. Charlie Bass, and since then she’s had a series of relatively competitive general elections,” writes Cook Political Report’s Erin Covey.

Ms. Covey’s “relatively” is doing a lot of work in that sentence. Here’s the actual math:


Even including Kuster’s 2012 race against an incumbent Republican, her average margin of victory is 9.3 percent. Since Donald Trump entered American politics, it’s 10.3 percent.

It’s not Kuster’s incomparable political skills. It’s the district. In 2016, both Hillary Clinton and failed Democratic gubernatorial candidate Colin Van Ostern carried the district. In 2020, Joe Biden crushed Trump 54 to 45 percent.

“Relatively competitive?” Relative to a congressional race in Massachusetts, perhaps. But not “competitive” in the “Republicans have a competitive chance of carrying the district” sense.

Some Republicans disagree, insisting an open seat puts the district in play.

“It’s wide open,” Gov. Chris Sununu told the NHJournal podcast Thursday. He believes the presidential race in New Hampshire this year “will be competitive,” more like 2016 — when Trump lost by fewer than 3,000 votes — than 2020 when Biden handily won by eight points.

“And that means CD2 (sic) will be competitive,” Sununu said. “Now you need a good candidate, a candidate who fits in the district, probably more moderate.”

On the Democratic side, Sununu predicts “multiple candidates will get in that race, probably eat themselves alive trying to be more progressive and lefty than the other, really setting themselves up for problems in November.”

As a result, a win in the district “is very possible, and that’s very exciting,” Sununu said.

Most New Hampshire GOP political pros and officeholders who spoke to NHJournal on background disagree.

“No chance,” one campaign veteran said. “All we can do is make the Democrats spend money there.”

And they almost certainly will — in the Republican primary. That was the Democrats’ strategy in 2022. As the leftwing Daily Kos describes it:

“In 2022, Sununu supported Keene Mayor George Hansel, a self-described ‘pro-choice’ candidate, but national Democrats successfully intervened in the primary. Former Hillsborough County Treasurer Robert Burns narrowly outpaced Hansel, and Kuster handily beat him 56-44 in what would turn out to be her final campaign.”

Burns is almost certain to run again this year, and Democrats are already spending millions influencing GOP primaries in Montana and Ohio, with tens of millions more reportedly to come.

Any more moderate Republican who wants to enter the race knows it’s likely they’ll have to beat the Democrats in both the GOP primary and again in the general election. That’s a tall order. Is anyone up for it?

In addition to Burns, 2022 GOP candidate Lily Tang Williams is already running in the primary. Hansel’s name is frequently mentioned and he confirmed to NHJournal that he’s been “getting a lot of calls,” but he’s made no decision on another run.

State Rep. Joe Sweeney (R-Salem) is reportedly considering a run, and multiple sources confirmed businessman Bill Hamlen of Hanover is close to jumping in the race.

Another 2022 candidate, Vikram Mansharamani, who ran unsuccessfully in the GOP U.S. Senate primary, is widely believed to be interested in running as well. Some Republicans have speculated former state party chair and Donald Trump campaign operative Stephen Stepanek might enter it, but reached by NHJournal, his response was, “Absolutely no.”

On the Democratic side, Colin Van Ostern has already announced his candidacy, barely 24 hours after Kuster broke the news of her retirement.

Ostern has spent most of his career working as a Democratic operative, including as campaign manager for Kuster’s 2010 loss against Republican U.S. Rep. Charlie Bass.

A long list of Democratic names have been mentioned, including Rep. Rebecca McWilliams of Concord, who has confirmed to the Patch she’s considering a run.

Former Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky has supporters pushing him to run, but no word from the potential candidate himself. Several progressives have told NHJournal on background they agree the seat is a Democratic lock and see no reason to let it go to a more moderate Democrat.

“We need a progressive to step up, someone young and hungry,” one Democratic activist said.

Several Democrats have mentioned state Sen. Becky Whitley (D-Hopkinton) as a potential candidate, and multiple sources including the Patch say wealthy businessman Gary Hirshberg, founder of Stonyfield Yogurt where Van Ostern used to work, is also in the mix.

As for the Second District being a “lock,” there are no guarantees in politics. The race could look very different by the time the filing period opens in June, and the primaries aren’t until September. Will Joe Biden still be president? Will Donald Trump be a convicted felon? Will No Labels have finally found a candidate?

Whatever the specifics, the big picture of New Hampshire politics remains: Republicans have won just one federal race — Congress, U.S. Senate or president — since 2012.