The presidential primary season is at hand. Granite Staters have already received some glimpses of likely presidential candidates as they came to the state to campaign for candidates in the midterm elections.
A few have even come back since the election. But expect the campaign dam to break after New Year’s Day. In January the campaign season will be off and running toward the February 2016 first-in-the-nation primary. To help them win votes, candidates of both parties will be looking to pick up the support influential people of their own parties. And they will be looking to hire paid operatives and win the backing of volunteers who are not necessarily household names.
Big name endorsements guarantee nothing in the New Hampshire Primary. History shows that while front-runners with the support of governors, senators and other top elected officials often do win the primary, often they don’t.
Still, winning over a key official or strategist is an attention-getter early in a campaign. It creates a buzz. And the right people can actually have a tangible benefit on a campaign – from media and messaging to volunteering to build coalitions and bring on board 100, or 1,000 of their closest, like-minded friends.
Here, below, are the New Hampshire Journal’s picks for the top 60 “most wanted” Granite State Republicans heading into the primary campaign. For the Republicans, we divided them into “The Big Endorsements” and “The Key Operatives and Activists.”
Our Democratic list can be found here.
The Big Endorsements.
1. Sen. Kelly Ayotte. She’s had a rough go of it in the endorsement game recently, backing Republican U.S. Scott Brown, who lost, and then in the House speaker’s race, Gene Chandler, who lost, and then Bill O’Brien, who lost. And Ayotte is often criticized by the right wing of the GOP for not being conservative enough on immigration. But she is still the highest ranking Republican official in the state, with approval ratings among rank-and-file voters (of all political stripes) in the high 50s. She is a rising star in Washington and even in the discussion as a potential vice presidential pick. Honestly, what Republican, courting Republican voters, wouldn’t want Kelly Ayotte chairing his or her campaign?
2) Scott Brown. We know. He lost to Jeanne Shaheen. And there were many Republicans who couldn’t bring themselves to vote for him. But Brown, even in losing, helped boster the Republican ticket in the last election and helped the party bring in more money than ever in the past. He is a tireless retail campaigner, no one can argue with that. And if and when he endorses, it will be more than an “in name only “endorsement. He will work – hard – for his candidate.
3. Publisher Joe McQuaid. The New Hampshire Union Leader doesn’t always pick winners (see Newt Gingrich in 2012, and Steve Forbes in 2000), but it often has (John McCain in 2008, Pat Buchanan in 1996). And even if its candidate doesn’t win, he (or she) they will receive a boost in polling and certainly in national media attention. Bottom line: If you’re a Republican, you’re much better off with the Union Leader’s endorsement than without it.
4. U.S. Rep.-elect Frank Guinta. He is often underestimated as a force in the state GOP, yet he is headed to his second term in the House after being elected Mayor of Manchester twice and serving as a two-term alderman. Guinta has lots of friends, connections and support in the New Hampshire business community. Certainly he’s a strong ally to have in a presidential campaign.
5. Former Gov. John H. Sununu. At 75, the former White House chief of staff is as much of a bulldog as ever. If a candidate is ready to risk having this patriarch of New Hampshire Republicans speak his mind – off the cuff, often with controversy – Sununu will work tirelessly for that candidate until the final vote is counted.
6. Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas. Where better for a candidate to begin to build a base of support than in the state’s largest city? And who better to have on your team than the two-term mayor, who is a favorite already to win a third term next November. His pending campaign will probably keep him out of the endorsement game until then, but after that, he will be a key prize.
7. Former U.S. Sen. Judd Gregg. He’s retired from elective politics and it’s unclear with his many business interests if he will endorse in 2016, but the man who never lost an election (once for Executive Council, three times for the U.S. House, twice for governor and a three-term senator) remains a key player and would be an important asset to an establishment Republican candidate.
8. State Senate President Chuck Morse. This strong-willed, yet practical conservative has a strong base of support in his home town of Salem and among the business community.
9. State Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley. A former congressman who is now a major force at the State House, Bradley brings a cool, straightforward, and, like Morse, a practical approach to politics.
10. Executive Councilor Chris Sununu. A rising star in the GOP and the son of the aforementioned GOP icon, Sununu, as the head man at the Waterville Valley resort, also has many ties to the business community and is viewed as a hands-on official, and of course, very bright.
11. Marilinda Garcia. The former congressional candidate lost big in the midterm to Rep. Ann Kuster, but her future remains bright in GOP politics, should she choose to pursue it. She is still a rising star with a strong following of young conservatives – a key player and a coveted conservative prize.
12. State Sen. Andy Sanborn. One of the leaders of the conservative/libertarian wing of the New Hampshire GOP and a thorn in the side of the establishment at the State House. He backed Ron Paul in 2012, so…..
12. Former U.S. Sen. John E. Sununu. He stays below the radar, but still would be a welcome addition to any campaign. And yes, he’s very smart.
13. Nashua Mayor Donnalee Lozeau. The former New Hampshire House Majority Leader is a firebrand, hard-worker and tells it like it is. She generally stays out of the endorsement game, but if she decides to play this time, she would be an important player.
14. Andrew Hemingway. The former candidate for governor is a rising star and one of the top leaders of the liberty movement in New Hampshire, as the former chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus of New Hampshire.
15. Walt Havenstein. Havenstein was a big donor to Republican candidates John McCain and Mitt Romney even before he ran a respectable race for governor in the last election. He received much help in that effort from the Republican Governors Association, led by Chris Christie. Look for Havenstein to return the favor in 2015-16.
16. Former Executive Councilor Ray Wieczorek. At 86, the former five-term Mayor of Manchester remains a coveted endorsement in state GOP politics. He knows, well, just about everyone.
17. Rep. Bill O’Brien. Remember, we’re talking about a Republican primary here. And if you’re a conservative looking for a passionate base of activist support, you’d better go see the former Speaker.
18. Deputy Speaker Gene Chandler. Still one of the most respected figures at the State House, and still a major player in the Mount Washington Valley.
19. Former Gov. Steve Merrill. He hasn’t been governor for 20 years, but he still is sought out for advice and counsel in the GOP.
20. Former Gov. Craig Benson. Despite the albatross of having been a one-term governor, he remains an important behind the scenes player, major contributor and he happens to be Kelly Ayotte’s self-described political mentor.
21. Former state Sen. and U.S. Senate candidate Jim Rubens. If you’re a social moderate and a fiscal conservative, and if it’s a crowded primary, go see Rubens. He built a following during his Senate run, having collected 23 percent of the vote, and is viewed as a valuable asset.
22. Rep. Laurie Sanborn. If it had not been for an illness in the family, she could be Speaker of the House today, given the scramble that occurred at the State House back on Dec. 3. She is a staunchly conservative, business-oriented rising leader in the GOP.
23. Former U.S. Rep. Charlie Bass. The former seven-term congressman still has plenty of friends in the business community in New Hampshire, and plenty of friends in Washington.
24. State Sen. Jeanie Forrester. A well-respected conservative and chair of the Senate Finance Committee, she is one of the NHGOP’s VIPs.
25. Merrimack County Sheriff Scott Hilliard. From kayaking with Scott Brown, to appearing at pretty much every GOP event ever held, Hillard is the epitome of a dedicated supporter.
26. Hillsborough County Sheriff James Hardy. Sheriffs remain important “gets” for any GOP candidate, and Hardy is the man in the state’s largest county.
27. Former Hillsborough County Sheriff Walter Morse. Although he has not been a sheriff since 2003, he remains a powerful player in the GOP grassroots.
28. Executive Councilor-elect David Wheeler. One of the most outspoken, and conservative, Republicans in New Hampshire.
29. Executive Councilor Joe Kenney. Not only is he a former state senator and former Republican gubernatorial nominee, but he is a more than 30-year Marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
30. Franklin Mayor Ken Merrifield. A well-respected, conservative voice who is finishing up service as vice chair of the New Hampshire Republican Party.
31. Former House Speaker Donna Sytek. Although she hasn’t been Speaker for 14 years, she remains a source of solid policy – and political – advice. She is Chairman Emeritus of the Vesta Roy Excellence in Public Service Series.
32 and 33. Former Speaker Doug and former Rep. Stella Scamman. This highly-respected couple is well-known nationally for their network of friends and of course for their Bittersweet Farm, the site of countless GOP events, large and small.
34. Dan Innis. The former Dean of the Peter T. Paul business school at UNH, Innis ran a strong race against Frank Guinta, losing in the September primary.
The Key Operatives and Activists
1. Mike Biundo. One of the best grassroots organizers and coalitions builders in the state, if not the country. But he’s already spoken for as chief strategist for Rand Paul’s RAND PAC.
2. Ryan Williams. This young, relentless message-master is the former deputy communications director for Mitt Romney’s campaign. He has also worked for the NHGOP under Chairman John H. Sununu and remains an adviser to the party.
3. Colin Reed. The former campaign manager for Scott Brown had much to do with Brown’s strong finish in the U.S. Senate race. He’s hands-on, yet understands the overriding issues that energize GOP voters.
4. David Carney. Well-known in GOP circles nationally, his deep New Hampshire roots began in the Sununu administration, circa 1983-88. He is also a special assistant in the political affairs office of the White House under Chief of Staff Sununu in the Bush (41) White House.
5. Patrick Griffin. Now a managing partner at the New England office of Purple Strategies, this advertising and media expert has run messaging for many New Hampshire campaigns as well both Bushes, Lamar Alexander and Romney.
6. Jim Merrill. The New Hampshire director of the Bernstein Shur Group, his roots in politics also go back 20 years to former Gov. Steve Merrill’s administration. He was a top player in both of George W. Bush’s campaigns in New Hampshire, worked with former Gov. Craig Benson, managed Mitt Romney’s 2008 campaign and was a key adviser in 2012. He has also held several posts with the NHGOP.
7. Mike Dennehy. A partner at the Concord firm of Dennehy and Bouley, he is most well-known for being a driving force behind John McCain’s two New Hampshire Primary wins, in 2000 and 2008, as regional and national political director and senior advisor. A more than 20 year veteran of GOP politics, he is a former special assistant to former Gov. Steve Merrill, a former executive director of the NHGOP and a former Republican National Committeeman. Dennehy is currently senior adviser to Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s policy group, Americans for Economic Freedom. So, chances are, he’s taken.
8. Tom Rath. The former Attorney General has a history in state and national GOP politics dating back to the early 1980s. Known now as a political guru, especially on the GOP side, he is one of the go-to people not only for candidates, but also for media looking for insight and analysis of all things New Hampshire politics.
9. Paul Young. Another veteran of many GOP battles, he is also a former NHGOP executive director and former U.S. Senate aide, who has been an adviser to several presidential candidates, from Jack Kemp, to Steve Forbes, to Rick Perry.
10. Joel Maiola. The former chief of staff to Judd Gregg, as Senator and governor, Maiola has been a top advisor to several GOP presidential campaigns, dating back to George H.W. Bush. He is currently a senior advisor at McLane GPS.
11. David Chesley. A long-time advisor to NHGOP chair Jennifer Horn, Chesley was recognized as a key player in the improvement of the NHGOP’s ground game in the midterm election. He has been involved in politics for nearly 15 years, , working on Horn’s 2008 congressional campaign and the 2006 and 2012 campaigns of former Rep. Charlie Bass.
12. Kerry Marsh. An expert in direct mail messaging, she is an account executive at Spectrum Marketing and chairs the Concord City GOP Committee.
13. Jane Lane. This veteran Keene area activist is a former top officer of the National Federation of Republican Women.
14. Paul Chevalier. Perhaps the most well-known military veteran who is active in New Hampshire politics. Chevalier is a former state commander and legislative chairman of the New Hampshire VFW.
15. Renee Plummer. A commercial real estate executive in Portsmouth, she is a major donor and organizer for a long list of GOP candidates and events.
16. J.P. Marzullo. The former vice chairman of the state Republican Party is a firebrand of the conservative movement, and is now on the board of the Republican Liberty Caucus of New Hampshire.
17. Lauren Carney. She has long been active behind the scenes on many Republican campaigns and during the midterms was the state director of Carly Fiorina’s Unlocking Potential Project.
18. Aaron Day. A mover and shaker of the libertarian/freedom movement of the GOP, he is president of the Republican Liberty Caucus of New Hampshire.
19. Jayne Millerick. A former executive director and chairman of the NHGOP and activist for candidates such as Kelly Ayotte and John McCain, she now heads a public relations consulting firm.
20. Patrick Hynes. A communications expert for corporate and association clients, he is also a GOP operative who has advised presidential candidates John McCain, Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty.
21. Jack Kimball. The former chairman of the NHGOP remains a major player in the Tea Party wing of the New Hampshire GOP. He most recently was the campaign manager for Bob Smith’s U.S. Senate campaign.
22. Paul Collins. Another more than 30 year veteran of New Hampshire GOP politics, Collins career also began with former Gov. Sununu in the early 1980s. He went on to become chief of staff to former Sen. John E. Sununu and managed Sununu’s Senate campaigns. He also was a key adviser to presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman and most recently managed Dan Innis’ congressional campaign.
23. Karen Testerman. A longtime grassroots leader and activist in the conservative wing of the NHGOP, she recently ran for the U.S. Senate before dropping out to try to consolidate conservatives around Bob Smith.
24, 25 and 26. Sarah Crawford Stewart, Chris Stewart and Tyler Deaton. The team at b-fresh Consulting would be a strong get for any presidential candidate. Sarah was a key player in both of John McCain’s primary victories, was a state campaign manager for Tim Pawlenty and then was a senior advisor to Jon Huntsman. Chris is an expert in social media and public relations, most recently advising Dan Innis’ congressional campaign. Tyler is a major player in the pro-same sex marriage group Standing Up for New Hampshire Families and has been a member of the Manchester Republican Committee and the NHGOP state committee.