Preview: Tues Special Election in Hillsborough

Tuesday’s special election for state rep in Hillsborough 3 (Greenville, New Ipswich, Peterborough, and Sharon) takes place in a district that tells many stories about New Hampshire politics over the past decade. (That said, don’t read too much into the results of any one special election contest.) The Republican candidate is David Simpson, and the Democrat is Peter Leishman. Both are from Peterborough, the district’s largest town and home to 50 percent of its voters.

This is a swing district, available to candidates of both sides. The left-leaning Peterborough, Greenville and tiny Sharon are balanced by New Ipswich, one of the most Republican towns in the state. It is home to moderate Republican Congressman Charlie Bass and dogmatic liberal Mark Fernald. And, for the first time in many, many years, former Gov. Walter Peterson will not cast a ballot in an election that involves Peterborough.

The district itself matches statewide averages in terms of voter registration almost perfectly:

 30.6% R, 29.3% D, 40.1% U for the district,

30.2% R, 29.3% D, 40.3% U statewide (August 31, 2011 data)

In 2000, George W. Bush carried this district, 49-45% over Al Gore. In 2004, John Kerry edged Bush, 51-49%. And in 2008, Barack Obama carried the district 54.4 – 44.9% over John McCain. In each presidential election, local results were very similar to statewide results.

At the state rep level, Republicans won all four seats here in 2010 – the only time either party swept the district since it was created before the 2002 election. In 2002 and 2004, Republicans won three seats and Democrats took one. In the 2006 Democratic wave, Democrats won three seats but Republicans hung onto one. That was the same outcome in 2008 – but the lone Republican winner, Andy Peterson, was the district’s highest vote-getter. It’s also a district that has reflected some recruitment failures on the Republican side. In 2002, Republicans ceded a seat to the Democrats by nominating just three candidates, all of whom won. In 2008 – the year in which Peterson topped the ballot – they ran only two.

Democrat candidate Leishman’s political history is unorthodox. He served three terms as a state rep from Milford from 1997-2002 – as a Republican. In 2002, he came in tenth out of 13 candidates in the Republican primary in an eight-seat district, and he subsequently quit the party. In 2004, he ran again for the legislature, this time as a Democrat, and lost. In 2006 wave, he ran again as a Democrat and, helped by the wave that year, this time he was elected. Questions were raised about his residency, however – enough of them that when he filed to run for re-election to the legislature yet again in 2008, he did so in the Peterborough district instead. He was defeated for re-election there in 2010.

For those keeping score, he’s served five terms total, three as a Republican, two as a Democrat, four from one district, one from the other; and along the way he’s run and lost three times as well, both as a Republican and as a Democrat, with at least one loss in both districts. Phew! Leishman is the owner of the Milford Bennington Railroad, and has been involved in controversies about whether he exerted improper influence as an elected official to manipulate contracts that benefited his company.

Republican Simpson is retired from the insurance business and has been active in Peterborough civic affairs and non-profit fundraising.

Campaign finance reports show Leishman had raised $4,020 as of September 14 – but $2,500 of that came from himself. Simpson’s most recent report, dated August 31, showed $3,153 raised, with $1,000 from the candidate. Other Simpson donors include Andy Peterson and Cy Gregg, brother of former U.S. Sen. Judd Gregg.

In all four special elections held this year, Democrats have been able to run an experienced candidate who has run or served in the district before.

fergus@ferguscullen.com, September 18, 2011

Author: Fergus Cullen

Fergus Cullen is a former chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party (2007-2008) and an editorial page columnist for the New Hampshire Union Leader.

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