Out-of-state candidates and why it’s possible to jump to the front of the political line in NH

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Graphic/Carol Robidoux

For the second election cycle in a row, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen is squaring off against well-funded Republican who only recently moved to the Granite State.

Six years ago Shaheen beat former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, who used his vacation home to launch a run against her, and she is currently going up against former Colorado attorney Bryant “Corky” Messner on Nov. 3.

Scott Brown

In fact, Messner’s such a recent addition to the state that his home on Wolfeboro is still owned by the LLC associated with his law firm, Messner Reeves. The law firm used the Lake Shore Road property as a corporate retreat.

Messner isn’t the only high-profile out-of-state candidate to try to start a political career in New Hampshire. Republican Matt Mowers, a New Jersey Native, former aide to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and former official in the Trump State Department, is running against incumbent Chris Pappas in the race for the 1st District congressional seat.

Both Messner and Mowers have been knocked for the carpetbagger status, and Messner was infamously unable to name a scenic view on New Hampshire’s iconic Kancamagus Highway during his televised debate with Shaheen.

Dante Scala, UNH political science professor, said that in a lot of other states, out-of-state candidates would not be able to get far jumping the line within the state party pecking order. New Hampshire’s political structure, however, makes it hard for in-state candidates to make the next step.

Matt Mowers file photo/Andrew Sylvia

“Matt Mowers, in another state, would be told to get in line,” Scala said. “I think it speaks to the difficulty in climbing the political ladder in New Hampshire, generally.”

The natural candidate to jump to a run for Congress in other states is a state senator, according to Scala. But in New Hampshire, state senators represent fairly small districts and lack the ability to make a name for themselves state-wide. It also holds them back from mounting large fundraising operations.

“In a lot of other states, state senator incumbents would have the advantage,” Scala said. “In New Hampshire, it’s difficult for state senators to make that jump.”

Dante Scala. File Photo

That leaves the door open for nationally well-connected candidates like Mowers, or wealthy self-funded candidates like Messner, to step in and take over the nominating process from the state party members, Scala said.

“Money’s a big thing,” Scala said.

Both Messner and Mowers have taken umbrage at being labeled carpetbaggers. Mowers, who started a political consulting firm in Bedford, has said his ties to New Hampshire go back to childhood, when his father worked on the construction of the Seabrook Power Plant.

However, people who went to high school with Mowers in East Brunswick, NJ, remember him well, and even started raising money for Pappas.

“Having had those relationships, we have seen first-hand that Mowers, from a young age, has had ambition to run for office,” his former classmates said in a fundraising statement. “Unfortunately, we also know that his reasons for seeking this career is not to make the world a better place or to defend an issue he finds important. It is solely to acquire power; the kind of politician that Americans are fed up with.”

Messner’s camp claims the use of the LLC for his homeownership does not indicate he is not a true Granite Stater.

“Corky’s properties are mostly located in New Hampshire and are held for estate planning purposes in a trust and various LLCs,” said Mike Biundo, Messner’s senior campaign advisor. “Corky is committed to investing in New Hampshire in support of the local economy and plans to continue to conserve land and make investments here in New Hampshire.”

Biundo went further, saying that Shaheen, a former New Hampshire governor, is not really a New Hampshire resident anymore.

“For a 30-year career politician who claims New Hampshire is ‘Shaheen Country,’ it’s ironic that a majority of Jeanne Shaheen’s considerable real estate holdings are located in neighboring Maine. I guess given that once she leaves her condo in DC, the Senator spends as much time as possible in the Pine Tree State, so we shouldn’t be surprised,” Biundo said.

Mower’s camp also fought back against assertions from Democrats regarding out-of-state ties, instead focusing on the Washington ties of incumbent Chris Pappas.

“Matt Mowers is running to represent New Hampshire because he loves New Hampshire and the people of the Granite State. It’s where he spent time in his childhood, where he moved back to right after college, and where he met his wife,” said Mowers Campaign Manager John Corbett. “While Congressman Pappas continues to lie to the people of New Hampshire about his relationship with a corporate lobbyist, Matt Mowers will always tell Granite Staters the truth.”

Corky Messner file photo/Andrew Sylvia

Shaheen’s campaign responded that the Senator still very much lives in Madbury, and Biundo’s attempt to label the incumbent who started in state government in 1990 an out-of-stater may not matter. The latest polls on election data website fivethirtyeight.com show Shaheen with a 15 point lead over Messner, and Pappas ahead by 10 points against Mowers.

This speaks to another reason why out-of-staters were able to grab the nomination, Scala said. Except for incumbent Gov. Chris Sununu, down-ticket Republicans would be vulnerable to a wave, and President Donald Trump is losing by 11 points, according to fivethirtyeight.com.

“I could imagine more homegrown candidates looking at the presidential race in 2020 and thinking ‘This maybe isn’t the year to make a try for higher office,’” Scala said.