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State Senate District 16 Candidates Clash: Who’s the ‘Real’ Republican?

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.’”

State Rep. Michael Yakubovich

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.”

The NHJournal Senate GOP Primary Power Rankings: Week One

For months, Gov. Chris Sununu kept the NHGOP frozen in place as it awaited what many had thought was his certain decision to enter the 2022 U.S. Senate race. Instead, he announced he will seek a fourth term as governor, which sent Granite State Republicans scrambling.

For the first few days, the rumor mill revolved around the “usual suspects” of potential Senate candidates, namely a trio of former U.S. senators. But Kelly Ayotte, Scott Brown, and Judd Gregg all said they’re not entering the race.

Now a new list is emerging — one that is almost certain to grow in the coming days — of potential Republican candidates. NHJournal asked 10 Republican strategists, officeholders, and activists to give their impressions by ranking the possible candidates in order of their strength. We also asked for a comment or two about the would-be contenders.

To foster brutal, intra-party honesty, NHJournal is not disclosing the names of the GOP panelists who participated.

We will be updating this list as events warrant, but here are the first NHJournal GOP Senate Primary Power Rankings:

 

The NHJournal GOP U.S. Senate Primary Power Rankings

 

  1. State Sen. Chuck Morse
  2. Londonderry Town Manager Kevin Smith
  3. Commissioner of Education Frank Edelbut
  4. Matt Mowers
  5. Rich Ashooh
  6. Bill Binnie
  7. Phil Taub
  8. Corky Messner
  9. Tom Moulton
  10. Jeff Cozzens
  11. Former congressman Frank Guinta
  12. Ret. General Don Bolduc

 

 

TOP TIER:

Senator Chuck Morse: Senate President Morse made the top three of all but one of the GOP panelists’ rankings. The consensus is he’s the “safe” pick for New Hampshire Republicans.

On the plus side, “Morse is the most likely to run on the Sununu accomplishments platform, which the polls show is a winner,” one Republican noted. On the less-than-plus side, “every time he has tried to go beyond Salem he flops,” said another. “Highly credible, but not really known outside of Concord and Salem.”

Londonderry Town Manager Kevin Smith: In what must be a surprise to nearly everyone — including Kevin Smith himself– the Londonderry town manager’s name also appeared near the top of nearly every list.

Smith hasn’t run for office since losing the GOP primary for governor in 2012, which the panelists viewed as both a strength and a weakness: Lower name ID, but also a harder target for the Hassan campaign to hit. “A star just waiting for the right moment to shine. He has a great economic development record. And he scares Democrats,” one panelist said. But another noted that, while “he’s young and ambitious, smart and well-spoken. — what has he done lately?”

Commissioner of Education Frank Edelblut: The Commissioner of Education and one-time gubernatorial candidate has made no secret of the fact that he has political ambitions. And as many of the panelists noted, Edelblut would start with the most inspired, motivated base. He would likely own the Trump/conservative lane in a primary, and that’s a pretty big lane.

But, as one panelist asked, “Has he drunk the Kool-Aid? Is it too close to the ReOpenNH crowd?” Another commented: “Edelblut owns the number one issue of the moment — education. But he snuck up on everyone in 2016. That won’t happen again.”

SECOND TIER:

Matt Mowers: Mowers is in the second tier largely because most of the panelists believe he’s going to hold onto his front-runner status in the First Congressional District GOP primary rather than risk a U.S. Senate race. “Unless one of the other candidates catches fire, he has a clear path to win the primary for CD1 and become the next Republican congressman from New Hampshire.”

Rich Ashooh: “People like him, which is why he’s near the top of the list” summarizes one view of Ashooh. “He’s conservative and he gets along with everyone.” But sources inside Trumpworld NH say Ashooh’s a non-starter for some because they believe he was less-than-loyal to the president in whose administration he served. “He worked for Trump, but his instincts are all Warren Rudman. Those days are over for the GOP.”

Bill Binnie: Anyone who can write a check for $25 million to kick-start his campaign is going to be taken seriously. And while the media magnate’s 2010 race may not have gone well (“disastrous,” one panelist calls it), that was 12 years ago. And another added: “He’s got a great story — business built from scratch, a former race car driver, it’s great. But he told it once before and it didn’t work. What’s changed?”

Phil Taub: The most volatile name on the list. Some insiders had him near the very top, others nearly at the bottom. The consensus is his fundraising is appreciated, as is his work on behalf of veterans. But he’s also described as “a moderate who endorsed Jeanne Shaheen in 2014.”

Corky Messner: He’s got millions of dollars in name ID left from his 2020 bid, and he’s been working both hard and smart for the NHGOP since losing to Sen. Jeanne Shaheen last year. However, he did lose badly and the general consensus is being the guy in front of the camera, as opposed to working for the GOP backstage, may not be his skill set.

UNKNOWNS:

Tom Moulton (NOTE: On 11/16, Moulton announced he’s not considering a run): He was the University of New Hampshire’s Entrepreneur of the Year in 2021 and he owns a successful company, Other than that, most of the political insiders put Moulton down as a TBD.

Jeff Cozzens: Jeff Cozzens got a lot of buzz when he entered the GOP primary for Second Congressional District and Gov. Chris Sununu promptly tweeted out his encouragement for the Littleton brewery owner’s candidacy. There are rumors the governor would be happy to see Cozzens switch and run for the Senate, and strategists say he’s got a great story to tell. But most of the panelists put him in the “wait and see” category.

BOTTOM TIER:

Former Congressman Frank Guinta: Lots of talk that former Congressman Frank Guinta is looking seriously at a run. Not a lot of talk that it’s a good idea. “A retread who lost his last race while being called a ‘Damned Liar’ on the front page of the Union Leader isn’t the answer,” said one panelist. Another added: “He’s been a D.C. lobbyist since leaving office – you can’t drain the swamp when you’ve planted your roots in it

Ret. General Don Bolduc: Phenomenal bio, horrible candidate. Short an endorsement from Trump — which is always a possibility — Bolduc’s candidacy is already over. Calling the most popular Republican in the state, Gov. Chris Sununu, a “Communist Chinese sympathizer” isn’t widely viewed as a winning strategy. One panelist called him “one of the worst candidates for major office our state has ever seen.” Plus, as one panelist put it, “He already lost to a guy named ‘Corky'”

His Anti-Trump Op-Ed Has NH Republicans Asking: What Does Mitt Want?

Soon-to-be Utah Senator Mitt Romney’s op-ed attack on President Donald Trump got a lot of attention, but it didn’t answer the key question: What does Mitt want?

“He doesn’t ‘want’ anything,” longtime Romney ally and advisor Jim Merrill told InsideSources on Wednesday. “He’s just doing what he thinks is right.”

Romney’s opinion piece in Wednesday’s Washington Post decried President Trump’s character (“presidential leadership in qualities of character is indispensable. And it is in this province where the incumbent’s shortfall has been most glaring”) and Mitt pledged to “speak out against significant statements or actions that are divisive, racist, sexist, anti-immigrant, dishonest or destructive to democratic institutions.”  Tough talk–but what does it mean?

According to Romney, what it doesn’t mean a primary challenge. “No,” he told CNN’s Jake Tapper who asked him about a 2020 POTUS run. “You may have heard I ran before. I’ve had that experience.”

So why release the op-ed?  It’s certainly not a message GOP voters–who still overwhelmingly support President Trump–want to hear. On talk radio Wednesday, callers from across the nation and from his former home state of Massachusetts expressed their anger with the 2012 GOP POTUS nominee. “He should be loyal to Trump–period!” one caller told national talk host Hugh Hewitt Wednesday morning. “Every Republican needs to support President Trump.”

On Boston’s WRKO, which serves vote-rich southern New Hampshire, a Republican called Romney a “two-faced, back-stabbing snake.”

Stephen Stepanek, the likely incoming NHGOP chairman, isn’t much kinder. “Trump is out fighting for Americans and Republicans like Mitt Romney aren’t standing with him like they should. When it gets nasty and the Democrats start attacking, they aren’t there in the trenches,” Stepanek told NHJournal.

“When the going gets tough, Mitt gets going,” Stepanek says.

Mitt has even annoyed some family members, with his niece (and GOP Chairwoman) Ronna Romney McDaniel tweeting: “For an incoming Republican freshman senator to attack as their first act feeds into what the Democrats and media want and is disappointing and unproductive.”

Not that Romney’s prospects in a primary against Trump were strong before the Wednesday papers hit. In a Suffolk poll of New Hampshire voters released last May, Trump was handily beating Romney 63-28 percent, similar to his 66-23 percent margin over outgoing Ohio Gov. John Kasich, though better than the projected 72-15 percent beatdown he’d give former AZ Sen. Jeff Flake.

One theory is that Romney wants to establish himself as the leader–not just a member–of the loyal GOP opposition to Trumpism. One longtime GOP activist, however, told InsideSources that Romney wrote on the eve of his entrance in the US Senate in order to “get him in the conversation about 2020. He’s clearly got it on his mind.”

But as Merrill, a key GOP player in New Hampshire politics and longtime Romney ally, pointed out, Romney was already there.

“He doesn’t need to interject himself into the conversation, he’s already in that conversation.  Mitt Romney is a leader in the party and he’s going to be a leader in the Senate,” Merrill said. “When people start thinking about alternatives to President Trump, his name is always going to come up.

“Which is why calling Mitt a ‘freshman senator’ was so unnecessary. Nobody looks at Mitt Romney that way,” Merrill said.

For his part, President Trump doesn’t appear to be worried, quipping that “If he fought [President Obama in 2016] the way he fights me, I’m telling you, he would have won the election.” Trump pointed out that he endorsed Romney “and he thanked me profusely.” If there’s a potential political foe keeping Donald Trump awake at night, it’s not Mitt Romney.

So the question remains: What was the purpose for releasing the op-ed?  According to Ryan Williams of FP1 Strategies (and a former Romney spokesperson), it’s all about timing.

“Romney has said all these things about [Trump] before. The reason for writing this now is because December was a bad month for Donald Trump. Romney’s been looking for a big moment to speak out. This is the moment,” Williams said.

Both Williams and Merrill are actively involved in GOP politics and both reject the premise that the op-ed is related to a POTUS bid.  Instead, they told InsideSources they believe Romney’s primary motivation is to lay the groundwork for how he plans to work with the president in the future.

“Read that paragraph about how he would work with Trump like he would with any president, it’s all there,” Williams said. He also believes Romney’s op-ed avoided personal attacks on the president. “He wasn’t gratuitously attacking President Trump, he was pointing out how character effects our relationships with our allies, how willing people are to work with you on policy.”

The bottom line, according to Jim Merrill:  “Mitt Romney didn’t need a political motivation to write this. He was doing what he thought is the right thing.”