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0000017a-15d9-d736-a57f-17ff8f680000Coverage of the 2016 races in New Hampshire, from the White House to the State House.

In N.H.'s 1st Congressional District, Election Day Feels Like Groundhog Day

For the fourth straight election, voters in New Hampshire’s 1st Congressional District will see the same two names on their ballots: Frank Guinta and Carol Shea-Porter.

The political rivals have traded the seat every two years since 2010, a testament to how evenly split the district is between Republicans and Democrats. But some voters are getting tired of the endless sequels.

At first, the matchup between Republican Frank Guinta and  Democrat Carol Shea-Porter seemed fresh, a novel affair.

Republican Frank Guinta and Democrat Carol Shea-Porter meet in a 2010 debate

Then in 2012, a political reboot in New Hampshire’s 1st Congressional District.

Guinta and Shea-Porter debate in 2012

In 2014, the two met again in what many thought would be the rubber match. Let’s let voters settle this thing once and for all.

Guinta and Shea-Porter debate in 2014

But now, as the two candidates appear on the 2016 ballot for a state record fourth consecutive contest in one of the nation’s most competitive swing districts, some voters are growing fatigued of the endless sequels.

“There is some of that, I must say,” says Dennis Sullivan, a voter from Dover. “Maybe it is time for both of them to go away.”

It’s not like time has brought these two candidates any closer together. This year’s campaign, in both debates and mailers, has an overwhelmingly negative tone.

“After three nasty campaigns already, and going into a fourth, I think we have candidates that don’t like each other very much, probably don’t respect each other very much,” says Andrew Smith, a professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire.

Friendships aside, Shea-Porter and Guinta’s alternating success seems to be less tied to their lines of attack or political beliefs--neither candidate strays very much from their party line--and instead is more a result of what’s happening higher up the ticket at the national level.

Shea-Porter has prevailed in head-to-head matchups in presidential election years, while Guinta’s two victories came during midterm elections, when Democratic turnout is typically lower. (Shea-Porter beat Republican Jeb Bradley for the seat in both 2006 and 2008).

Recent polls show a similar trend shaping up in 2016, with Shea-Porter holding a double-digit lead. A campaign finance scandal is also contributing to Guinta’s struggles. Last year he reached a settlement with federal elections officials over improper campaign donations he got from his parents.

With both candidates’ strengths and weakness so well known, though, voters like Laura Chapin would be happy for some new blood.

“We need some choices,” says Chapin. “Obviously, the choices that have been made aren’t working out for the state and the country as a whole. So it’s a little difficult to imagine there isn’t anyone out there that can do a better job, or at least have some other options.”

There is one new wrinkle in the 2016 edition of this race: Bedford businessman Shawn O’Connor. He’s largely self-financing an independent run after dropping out of the Democratic primary earlier this year.

Along with running TV ads, O’Connor is also doing some retail politicking, like stopping by The Edgewood Centre, a Portsmouth nursing home, where the Groundhog Day feel of the race came up quickly in his stump speech.

"I think it is crazy that we’ve had the same two career politicians in D.C. who have gone back and forth and back and forth,” he told the room.

But O’Connor, who is polling around 10 percent, will have to overcome a serious lack of name recognition compared to Guinta and Shea-Porter.

Regardless of who prevails, political analyst Andy Smith says don’t be surprised if those two names also pop up in 2018.

“They both think they can win it,” says Smith. “And if you both think you have a chance, why not?”

In this political tug-of-war, the candidates do seem awfully willing to dust themselves off and try again.

Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University. He can be reached at tbookman@nhpr.org.
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