One of only two U.S. House Republicans in New England is in danger of losing his seat in the September primary election, political observers in New Hampshire and Washington say.
Rep. Frank Guinta (R-New Hampshire), has been hobbled by a campaign finance scandal for the past year. The Federal Election Commission released a conciliation agreement in May 2015, signed by Guinta’s attorney in which the second-term lawmaker agreed to repay $355,000 in family loans given illegally to his first campaign for Congress in 2010.
Guinta claimed in 2010, that he had simply failed to disclose a personal bank account. He later claimed the money came from shared family funds, a portion of which were legally his. The FEC agreement clarified that the money constituted an illegal loan to his campaign, which Guinta has since repaid, though he continues to deny any wrongdoing.
In March, it appeared that Guinta would face three primary challengers, leading many New Hampshire political observers to conclude that he stood a decent chance of slipping through a divided field.
But by May, when former New Hampshire Deputy House Speaker Pam Tucker dropped out, Guinta was down to one challenger, former BAE Systems executive Rich Ashooh. Given Guinta’s low approval numbers in recent polls and the taint of scandal, observers say Ashooh is now the favorite to win the primary.
“If Ashooh is at least somewhat competent as a candidate, then he should be able to beat Guinta one on one,” University of New Hampshire political science professor Dante Scala said. “A lot of Republicans are done with Guinta and I don’t think they can be persuaded otherwise given what’s happened.”
Guinta’s chances of winning do not look good, said Kimberly Railey, who covers Congressional races for National Journal.
“Guinta is among one of the most vulnerable House Republicans this cycle,” Railey said. “Now that Ashooh is Guinta's only challenger, he can consolidate the anti-Guinta vote.”
Many New Hampshire Republicans share that view.
“I think Ashooh one-on-one is Guinta’s worst nightmare,” said former state attorney general and long-time Republican fixture Tom Rath. "He’s always had a ceiling, and I think it’s lower than people think. Ashooh can beat Guinta in Manchester. I think he’s a very strong favorite in that race. His only concern between now and when the filing date closes is if someone gets to the right of him, but I don’t think that will happen.”
Railey pointed out that Guinta is unpopular in the district, further enhancing Ashooh’s chances.
“WMUR polls have found Guinta's favorability far underwater, so there's definitely an appetite for a challenger," Railey said. “And in Ashooh, many Republicans see a strong candidate — a super PAC was recently set up to boost him, and is led by a handful of big-name GOP consultants. “
Scala called the current primary situation “the worst-case scenario for Guinta.”
Guinta has proven conventional wisdom wrong before, Jay Ruias, Guinta’s campaign manager, told AMI Newswire. He dismissed the prevailing view of Guinta's vulnerability.
“Since his first campaign, Frank has been the underdog,” Ruais said. “He’s been counted out. And he’s won against crowded and small fields, and outside Super PACs. This year is no different. He’ll win the way he always has: one city, street and voter at a time, listening to Granite Staters and setting an agenda together. He’s an accomplished member of Congress, with lots of grassroots support, and will be successful in the primary against the establishment candidate."
Yet the fundraising figures show that donors are taking a pass on Guinta, suggesting his troubles are more than just beltway buzz. He is hurting for money. FEC documents show that Guinta raised a total of $712,258 from Jan. 1, 2015, through March 31, 2016, and only $247,545 of that came from individual donors.
By contrast, Maine Rep. Bruce Poliquin, the only other Republican House member from New England, raised $2,150,898 in the same period, with more than half, $1,102,869, coming from individual donors.
New Hampshire’s other U.S. House member, Rep. Ann Kuster, raised $1,998,976 in the same period, with $1,061,989 from individual donors.