While the GOP primary campaign for U.S. Senate is getting most of the attention, a hotly-contested Republican race for state Senate being is waged in District 16. Political observers say it is the most-watched legislative primary race of the year.
And a key debate between the two candidates is which one is the ‘real’ Republican.
Rep. Barbara Griffin (R-Goffstown) has been a GOP member of the legislature since 2014. Before getting involved in politics, however, she considered herself an independent, though she did vote in the 2008 and 2012 Democratic primaries.
Rep. Michael Yakubovich (R-Hooksett), a self-described Rand Paul Republican, said he quit the GOP in 2016 when the Kentucky senator dropped out of the presidential primary and pulled a Democratic ballot — casting his vote for Vermin Supreme. He also voted in the state Democratic primary that year, records show.
Griffin, who points to her work to create a winnable legislative district map for Republicans as chair of the redistricting committee says she has always been very conservative.
“I’ve been a gun owner for many years, and a member of the NRA for many years. When someone brings this up, I say to them, ‘Show me something I’ve done that makes you think I’m a liberal Democrat.’”
Yakubovich, first elected to the House in 2018, told NH Journal he has been a solid Republican for nearly his entire life in America.
“I have voted for many Republicans since I escaped Communism and became a United States citizen in 1995,” Yakubovich said.
The dispute over their partisan standing comes because at one time both Griffin and Yakubovich were registered Democrats.
Griffin grew up in a Republican house, with parents who attended an inauguration party for President Richard Nixon. She registered as “undeclared,” but when she voted in a Democratic primary, she said she forgot to switch back to undeclared and did not think about it until she decided to get into state politics. That was when she made sure her party affiliation matched her true beliefs, she said.
Yakubovich admitted he voted in the Democratic primary in 2016, but said it was just a protest. “I did not ‘switch parties’ – my intention always was to remain as a Republican.”
Yakubovich has said that in the past he voted for Vermin Supreme, a performance artist known for wearing a rubber boot for a hat and promising to give away ponies if elected. Asked by NHJournal to confirm that vote, he declined to answer the question.
Whether or not either Griffin or Yakubovich were ever committed Democrats, the two current Republicans have very different voting records.
Griffin has put together a conservative, pro-life, pro-Second Amendment record in her time in the State House, according to Sen. Regina Birdsell (R-District 19). She is endorsing Griffin, as are other conservative stalwarts like Sen. Kevin Avard (R-District 12), Birdsell said.
“She’s what we need in the state Senate. I fully endorse her,” Birdsell said.
Birdsell said she is convinced of Griffin’s conservative bona fides based on her record as a lawmaker. She was not concerned about any Democratic past, as many prominent Republicans had been Democrats in their youth.
“A lot of us were Democrats before we were Republicans. Including myself, including Ronald Reagan, including Donald Trump,” Birdsell said.
While Griffin casts herself as a traditional conservative, Yakubovich tilts libertarian in his votes and has won the endorsement of the libertarian-leaning organization Americans for Prosperity. Greg Moore, AFP state director, said Yakubovich is exactly the right person for the Senate.
“Michael Yakubovich is an incredibly effective and important legislator who has, in his two terms in the House, shown that he has been one of the best leaders for delivering on low taxes, limited spending, reducing regulation, and growing the New Hampshire Advantage,” he said. “We’re thrilled to endorse him so that he can bring those same skills to the Senate and become a leader there.”
On the Second Amendment issue, Yakubovich supporters note that Griffin scored a B with the NRA’s Political Victory Fund this year, while Yakubovich scored an A. The group did not endorse in the race. Similarly, the New Hampshire Firearms Coalition graded Griffin with a B-, and gave Yakubovich an A.
Yakubovich’s libertarian approach has led him to cross the aisle and vote with Democrats on legalizing marijuana. And he voted against a bill to charge people who pay to have sex with children with a class A felony. More recently, Yakubovich voted against GOP-backed attempts to fix the recently passed bail reform law that some say has allowed too many repeat offenders back on the street.
Last week, Daniel Whitmore, 75, of Manchester was stabbed to death on a walking trail near Bradley Street. The suspect in the murder is homeless man Raymond Moore, 40. He was arrested twice this summer; once in July in Nashua for resisting arrest and disorderly conduct, and again in August in Manchester in another apparent stabbing incident. Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig took to Twitter to decry the lenient bail system in New Hampshire that let Moore out of jail.
“Our criminal justice system cannot continue releasing violent offenders back onto our streets. I, once again, urge our legislators to act quickly and address this issue. The safety of our residents is at stake,” Craig said.
Griffin, who supports bail reform, said law and order is part of the New Hampshire Advantage and that GOP politicians need to support getting tough on crime.
“I know the chaos it creates in the city of Manchester and our communities,” she said. “This murder could have been avoided.”