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N.H. Republicans spent over $9.5m on US Senate race

Winner faces Democrat Hodes for Gregg’s seat

US Senate candidates (from left) Bill Binnie, Dennis Lamare, Jim Bender, Ovid Lamontagne, and Kelly Ayotte participated in a debate at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., last week. US Senate candidates (from left) Bill Binnie, Dennis Lamare, Jim Bender, Ovid Lamontagne, and Kelly Ayotte participated in a debate at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., last week. (Dave Lane/ Associated Press/ Pool)
By Norma Love
Associated Press / September 14, 2010

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CONCORD, N.H. — Energized New Hampshire Republicans have spent more than $9.5 million trying to retain the seat of retiring US Senator Judd Gregg — believing the winner of today’s primary will have an edge in November.

Front-runner Kelly Ayotte, a 42-year-old former attorney general from Nashua, has spent $2 million to push a conservative anti-Democrat, antifederal spending agenda.

Multimillionaire businessman Bill Binnie, 52, of Rye spent more than $6 million — more than $5 million out of his own pocket — but political analysts believe Binnie hurt himself with television ads criticizing Ayotte too early. Ayotte may have hurt herself by responding.

“The mud thrown between the two threw moderates off both,’’ said pollster Andrew Smith.

Manchester lawyer Ovide Lamontagne, 52, may have been the biggest beneficiary, despite spending only $400,000.

In a battle over who is the most conservative, Ayotte got a boost from Sarah Palin’s endorsement in July over Lamontagne, who courted Tea Party movement activists. Palin, the former vice presidential nominee and former governor of Alaska, recorded telephone messages to voters that started Sunday praising Ayotte as “the true conservative’’ — a mantle Lamontagne has tried to claim as his throughout his campaign.

Binnie changed tactics in the final week, reaching out to social moderates by trumpeting his support for abortion rights.

Millionaire businessman Jim Bender, 57, of Hollis added to the spending spree with nearly $1 million, most of it his money.

Three other candidates with less money and name recognition also are in the race.

The winner faces US Representative Paul Hodes, a Democrat who, though unopposed, has spent $2.5 million. Hodes, 59, of Concord, holds the Second District seat.

In Rhode Island, the most closely watched race, and among the most crowded, is for the First District congressional seat held by Patrick Kennedy, who announced in February that he would not seek a ninth term.

There have been no reliable polls, but the best known and best financed of the four candidates is Mayor David Cicilline of Providence. He has raised more than $1.3 million, about three times the amount of his nearest Democratic rival moneywise, businessman Anthony Gemma. State Representative David Segal and Bill Lynch, former state party chairman, round out the field.

Cicilline has said he’s not taking anything for granted, and is running as if he’s “20 points down.’’ Yesterday, he delivered sandwiches and his closing argument to a group of seniors at a housing complex in East Providence.

One factor that could help him, he said, would be high turnout in the Providence mayor’s race. The winner of the Democratic primary — Representative Steven Costantino, Councilman John Lombardi, or lawyer Angel Taveras — will face an independent candidate with little campaign infrastructure in November.

Lynch swung by the Leon Mathieu Senior Center during lunchtime yesterday, shaking hands and making a final push before the primary. “Tomorrow’s the big day,’’ he told the lunchtime crowd. “Just remember, Bill.’’

Lynch, whose father was a longtime mayor of Pawtucket, said he was focusing his efforts on the Blackstone Valley, what he called the heart of the district. He planned to rely on basic get-out-the-vote measures, such as phone calls and offering rides to the polls, to clinch a win.

The winner is expected to face state Representative John Loughlin, a Republican, on Nov. 2. Loughlin has raised about $470,000; rival Kara Russo has not raised any money.

Seven states and the District of Columbia are holding primaries, and some offer races of national interest, including:

■ In Delaware, Representative Mike Castle, 71 and a fixture in state politics for more than a generation, faces a threat from Christine O’Donnell, supported by Palin and the Tea Party Express, which has reported spending more than $200,000 on her behalf in recent days.

The race has rapidly become bitter as O’Donnell has narrowed Castle’s lead in the polls. Republican officials disclosed yesterday they had contacted the Justice Department after Tom Ross, state party chairman, received a death threat. Ross has been among Castle’s most outspoken supporters, saying at one point that O’Donnell “could not be elected dog catcher’’ in Delaware.

In contrast to Castle, a former two-term governor who has held the state’s lone House seat for nine terms, O’Donnell has never been elected to public office. For most of the campaign, Castle seemed to ignore her, but when Senator Lisa Murkowski was unexpectedly defeated for renomination in Alaska two weeks ago, Castle and the Republican Party abruptly switched course.

■ In New York, a Tea Party movement Republican is trying to ride a wave of voter anger as he challenges the GOP leaders’ choice in the New York governor’s race. A poll over the weekend showed millionaire developer Carl Paladino had drawn even with Rick Lazio, former congressman. Paladino is a political novice and Lazio the choice of leaders of the Republican and Conservative parties.

The Democratic primary pits Representative Charles Rangel, battered by ethics charges, against Adam Clayton Powell IV, son of a legendary Harlem lawmaker.

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