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Annie Kuster Chairs DCCC’s Frontline Program, Yet Is Also Listed As One of the Vulnerable Incumbents

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is sending mixed signals about U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster. They must believe the Democratic representative from New Hampshire’s 2nd Congressional District can hold on to her seat next year because they named her chair of the Frontline Program, which provides congressional candidates with extra fundraising and campaign infrastructure support. However, they also listed her as one of the 19 initial candidates for the program.

DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Luján announced the 19 members for the 2017-2018 Frontline Program on Monday. The roster is about half of freshman members. Eight of the candidates won in districts that President Donald Trump carried in November, and all of them, except for one, are listed on the National Republican Congressional Committee initial targets list.

Seven of the members on this year’s list were also on the DCCC’s initial 2016 Frontline list, but they have a good track record, because out of the 12 Frontline members on the 2016 list, only one candidate lost and that was Nebraska Rep. Brad Ashford.

“Each of these Democrats knows how to win tough races — proven by their success in a difficult national environment in 2016,” Luján said in a statement.

The DCCC announced in February that Kuster would chair the vulnerable incumbents program, which is her first time at the helm. This is Kuster’s third term in Congress, and she’s been elected in the more Democratic-leaning district of New Hampshire, which includes cities like Nashua and Concord. The DCCC should be confident she can deliver a fourth term. Inside Elections by Roll Call is ranking the 2nd Congressional District as a “currently safe Democrat.”

Despite being chair of the Frontline Program, she is also one of the vulnerable incumbents that is expected to receive DCCC assistance in the 2018 midterm elections. Of course, the list can change over time and she could be removed if it looks like she doesn’t have a serious Republican challenger.

Yet, previous chairs of the program were not also on the list of vulnerable incumbents. For example, for the 2015-2016 Frontline Program, Michigan Rep. Dan Kildee was chair, but he was not a candidate on the list. In the 2013-2014 program, Minnesota Rep. Tim Walz was chair, but not considered a vulnerable candidate for that election cycle. He was a previous member of the program for the 2011-2012 program under the leadership of Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who was also not listed as a vulnerable incumbent when she chaired it.

It could make sense for a previously vulnerable incumbent to chair the program since they could bring the knowledge and experience the knowledge and experience with them to share with other representatives across the country, but it is still an interesting choice to have Kuster chair the Frontline Program, while also listing her as a vulnerable incumbent.

“The Frontline Program will help these members again build strong campaigns, maximize resources and take advantage of the energy from the grassroots, so that they can continue to fight on behalf of the hardworking people in their districts,” Luján added.

Kuster enters the 2018 midterms with a decent amount in the bank, approximately $1 million, actually. The median amount of cash on hand that lawmakers who won their races in 2016 have is about $367,000, or about $361,000 for House candidates, putting Kuster well above the average.

However, Kuster spent nearly $2.2 million against Republican challenger Jim Lawrence. He spent less than $100,000, yet, Kuster only defeated Lawrence by 5 percent, 50-45 percent, respectively, with Libertarian John Babiarz receiving 5 percent. Perhaps, that close winning percentage in a relatively safe Democratic district is why she is listed in the incumbent protection program.

Democrats need to gain 24 seats to take control of the House, which is expected to be a difficult task for Democrats in 2018. Even though it’s a midterm election and the incumbent party of the White House tends to lose seats, midterms also don’t favor Democrats when voter turnout is less favorable for them, making protecting their incumbents a high priority.

However, Democrats are also on the offensive in 2018, hoping to capitalize on any anti-Trump voters. In their target list, they narrowed in on 59 GOP-held seats, focusing on districts that Hillary Clinton carried or that were narrowly won by Trump. Twenty-three Republican lawmakers come from Clinton districts, which is almost the number of seats Democrats need to win in order to get a House majority.

In turn, the National Republican Congressional Committee identified 36 Democratic incumbents, including Kuster, for the midterms, with approximately one-third of their targets coming from districts Trump won. Yet, several of those members were not identified on the initial Frontline roster. The NRCC has also named 10 members to its incumbent protection program, who mostly come from districts Clinton won.

U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter is also a candidate for the DCCC’s Frontline Program, which is expected for anyone running in New Hampshire’s 1st Congressional District. The NRCC also listed Shea-Porter as one of its incumbents on its target list for 2018. Inside Elections ranks it as one of five “purely toss-up” seats for 2018. Shea-Porter defeated former Republican Rep. Frank Guinta, but it’s been a back-and-forth contest between the two candidates for the last six years.

Shea-Porter enters the 2018 midterms with less of an advantage than Kuster — money-wise at least. She only has approximately $3,800 in the bank after a tight race between Guinta and Independent candidate Shawn O’Connor. Out of the 435 representatives in the House, Shea-Porter has the fifth lowest cash on hand total.

Even though the election is more than a year away, the political attacks are already happening.

“It’s a no-brainer to choose Annie Kuster as the leader of the DCCC’s Frontline Program since she can draw on her own embarrassing political blunders as examples of what not to do,” said NRCC spokesman Chris Pack in a statement to NH Journal. “Rest assured, the NRCC is aggressively working to recruit viable candidates in both Granite State congressional seats to hold Annie Kuster and Carol Shea-Porter accountable for their blind hyper-partnership.”

The NRCC points to 2013 when Kuster was late paying for her property taxes. It came up during her 2014 reelection campaign against Republican Marilinda Garcia as an example of one of her “embarrassing political blunders” during her term, and when it appeared that she couldn’t answer a question about the Benghazi attacks or know that the Libyan-city was in the Middle East.

The DCCC did not respond to a request for comment from NH Journal on NRCC’s statement. Kuster’s office also did not respond to a request for comment.

The NRCC is hoping to recruit strong candidates for New Hampshire’s Congressional districts, with the hopes that it will knock Kuster and Shea-Porter out of their seats.

Earlier this week, the NRCC blasted Shea-Porter for sending a press release condemning the the GOP’s replacement for Obamacare quickly after it was released to the public.

“That means Carol started immediately complaining instead of fully digesting the bill, sleeping on it, getting input from her constituents, speaking to advocacy groups, health care experts, etc,” Pack wrote in a NRCC blog post. “But this should come as no surprise since Carol has always put knee-jerk partisan politics ahead of actual legislating. Maybe that’s why Granite State voters have repeatedly shown buyer’s remorse by booting her out of office on multiple occasions.”

When asked for a comment about the NRCC’s statements, Shea-Porter’s office referred to the same press release she sent out when the GOP’s plan was released.

“House Republicans should be ashamed of their new bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which would hurt New Hampshire workers and families by ending Medicaid expansion, driving up premiums, leaving fewer people with coverage than before the law passed, and setting us back in the fight against the heroin, fentanyl, and opioid epidemic,” she said in her statement.

Although no candidates have officially declared their intent to run against Kuster or Shea-Porter, there are several Republicans who have indicated they are interested in potentially challenging them for their seat.

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A Look at Shea-Porter, Kuster’s War Chests Hints Toward 2018 Midterm Elections

It’s never too early to be thinking about the 2018 midterm elections. For the incumbent party in the White House, it usually means losing seats. However, Republicans are poised to retain control of the House and Senate, barring any major catastrophe, which would give Democrats the advantage.

In New Hampshire, it could mean tough races for Democratic incumbent Reps. Carol Shea-Porter and Annie Kuster, and their final campaign finance filings for the 2016 election cycle can provide clues on what to expect for their reelection campaigns.

Assuming they run again for their seats, Kuster and Shea-Porter enter the 2018 contests with a significant difference between them in their total cash on hand.

Shea-Porter only has approximately $3,800 in the bank as a result of a tough election against former Republican Rep. Frank Guinta and Independent candidate Shawn O’Connor. Out of the 435 representatives in the House, she has the fifth lowest cash on hand total.

Kuster, on the other hand, sits modestly with just over $1 million stashed away.

The median amount that lawmakers who won their races in 2016 have in the bank is about $367,000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), a nonpartisan research group tracking money and lobbying in elections. Specifically for House candidates, it’s about $361,000.

Of course, for party leaders they have the biggest war chests since they are expected to raise money to help their colleagues. House Speaker Paul Ryan had the highest cash on hand in the House with $9.1 million.

“The typical pattern is that campaigns that are in tough reelections or open seat battles will almost never have any money left,” said Caleb Burns, a partner at Wiley Rein LLP, to the CRP. “But conversely, the opposite is also true, where members of Congress have extraordinarily safe seats and don’t feel the pressure of having to raise a lot of money.”

That’s especially true for New Hampshire’s representatives. Kuster was assumed to have a relatively safe seat in the Granite State’s 2nd Congressional District, while Shea-Porter in the 1st Congressional District was always going to have a tough time ousting Guinta.

So what does this mean going into next year’s race?

Well, it shouldn’t come as a surprise, but the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) included Shea-Porter and Kuster in their initial 36-member target list.

Kuster spent nearly $2.2 million against Republican challenger Jim Lawrence. He spent less than $100,000, and yet, Kuster only defeated Lawrence by 5 percent, 50-45 percent, respectively, with Libertarian John Babiarz receiving 5 percent. The NRCC figures that if they can recruit a decent candidate and put a little money into the race, they could have a chance at ousting Kuster.

For Shea-Porter, the 1st Congressional District is always a toss up, mostly because it’s been a Shea-Porter versus Guinta contest every two years since 2010. The NRCC and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee usually throw a decent amount of funds toward the district’s candidates. It also helps the NRCC that Shea-Porter has been kicked out by voters before and she defeated Guinta in a crowded field. She won by a margin of 162,080 to 156,176, while independents O’Connor and Brendan Kelly and Libertarian Robert Lombardo garnered a total of 46,316 votes among them, possibly to the detriment of Guinta.

However, Republicans swept the 1st District in every other federal race. Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by about 6,000 votes, former Sen. Kelly Ayotte beat Sen. Maggie Hassan also by about 6,000 votes, and Gov. Chris Sununu defeated former Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern by about 18,000 votes. With the right candidate, the NRCC believes they can flip the district again.

Any ideas on who’s going to run against Shea-Porter or Kuster?

As recently as Wednesday, one Republican has indicated that he’s “seriously” interested in challenging Shea-Porter in the 1st District.

John Burt, a four-term New Hampshire House member from Goffstown, told WMUR that he has spoken with conservatives throughout the state and region about running for Congress. He said he hopes to make a final decision in the coming weeks.

“I have no doubt that I can beat Carol Shea-Porter,” he said. “In 2018, it’s going to be another 2010-type sweep of Republicans heading to D.C. and also to the New Hampshire State House.”

Other Republicans being talked about as possible candidates include state Sen. Andy Sanborn from Bedford and former state commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services John Stephen, who is also a former gubernatorial and congressional candidate.

Don’t be surprised if Guinta makes another run for the seat he lost. Neither Shea-Porter nor Guinta ruled out running again in 2018 if they lost.

Earlier this month, the DCCC made Kuster the chair of its “Frontline” incumbent retention program, which gives special attention to vulnerable Democratic incumbents, so they must feel confident that she can win again in 2018.

However, former state Rep. Joe Sweeney of Salem previously told WMUR that he is “in the very early portion of exploring a run” for the 2nd District against Kuster.

“I firmly believe that Congresswoman Kuster does not adequately represent the district, and her performance and voting record presents a winnable path,” he said.

Senate President Chuck Morse could also be a potential candidate. The Salem senator is listed on the National Governors Association’s website as a former governor of New Hampshire. He served as acting governor for two days from January 3 to 5, when former Gov. Hassan resigned early to be sworn in as U.S. Senator. The New Hampshire Union Leader sees him as an option for Republican Party operatives still looking for a candidate.

Voters shouldn’t rule out seeing the two Republican frontrunners from the 2nd District GOP primary on the ballot either. Former House Majority Leader Jack Flanagan from Brookline indicated that he was hearing from supporters to run again in 2018. He lost the GOP primary to Lawrence by about 5,000 votes. Also, with Lawrence’s close finish to Kuster in the general election, he heard calls from supporters to consider yet another run. If he did, this would be his third congressional bid in six years.

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