Political Class and Clashes

Divisions define our two congressional districts

Illustration by Peter Noonan

This November New Hampshire will send two very different people to represent the state in Washington. This is not a prediction. This is a fact. And, no, it has nothing to do with Republicans or Democrats.

The Granite State has two seats in the US House of Representatives. The districts - and those running to represent those districts - are so different it's almost the tale of two states.

The First Congressional District - including Manchester, the Seacoast, the Mount Washington Valley and the Lakes Region - is scrappy, ethnic, intense and full of non-natives. Republican incumbent Frank Guinta grew up the son of Italian parents in New Jersey, who never graduated from high school but worked to build a family business. In his first major run for public office he was a long shot for Manchester Mayor, yet he outworked the incumbent and won. He also had to outwork and outsmart a hotly contested Republican primary for Congress in 2010 before getting his first bit of luck in riding a Republican wave year over the Democratic incumbent.

That incumbent was Democrat Carol Shea-Porter, who began her first race for Congress as more of a long shot than Guinta could ever imagine. In races that can cost a million dollars for candidates to win, Shea-Porter won her Democratic primary for Congress in 2006 spending a little over $20,000 and with the campaign theme of being for "the 99 percent of us." That was five years before the Occupy Movement made that phrase cool.

"It's almost the tale of two states."

When Guinta defeated Shea-Porter in 2010, it marked the largest ideological shift from progressive to conservative of any Congressional seat in the country, according to the National Journal. While Guinta and Shea-Porter couldn't disagree more politically, they are very alike when it comes to how they approach taking risks and fighting politically. They like the rough and tumble.

Compare this to the Second Congressional District, which is all LL Bean, all the time. This district includes almost the entire border with Massachusetts and the entire borders with Vermont and Canada. There is more of a grounded laid-back feel to politics of the Monadnock Region and the Upper Valley along with the pragmatism of the North Country. People are more likely to be from the area. The two candidates running were childhood friends, both educated at Dartmouth and both come from well-known political families. Both Republican Congressman Charlie Bass and his Democratic challenger Annie Kuster are well-off financially. "Roughing it" for dinner might be going to Panera Bread.

Both Bass and Kuster have fully taken advantage of their backgrounds. Bass is the son of a Congressman and the grandson of a Governor. He has already been elected to Washington seven times. Kuster used her connections to be one of the most prolific fundraisers of all candidates in the country.

While the candidates in the First Congressional District could hardly contain their disdain for each other in their first debate in September, the Second District debate began with wishes of goodwill.

Both Congressional districts will see millions spent from both parties trying to convince voters that one is the perfect representative while the other is the devil. But here in New Hampshire, while you can vote a Congressman out of the District, you can't take the District out of the Congressman.


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