- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The road to a Republican congressional majority may not run through New England, but GOP officials expect to make at least a few inroads this fall in a region where they suffered heavy losses in recent election cycles.

Republican strategists say they are not counting on a major reversal of fortunes in what has been the party’s weakest region nationwide, despite Scott Brown’s galvanizing election victory in Massachusetts in January, when the GOP picked up the seat to replace Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.

“We’re positioned to do well in a handful of seats in New England,” said Tory Mazzola, a National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman. “And New Hampshire is a top priority.”

In what was once a GOP stronghold, Democrats completed a remarkable sweep in the six New England states in 2008. With the ouster of Rep. Christopher Shays, a moderate Connecticut Republican, Democrats for the first time controlled all 22 House seats in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Rhode Island.

The picture in the Senate and statehouses is slightly more balanced. Republicans hold four of the 12 Senate seats and the governorships in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Vermont, although Sen. Judd Gregg, New Hampshire Republican, is set to retire.

But with GOP officials and private pollsters predicting major Republican gains in the midterm elections across the country, Democratic dominance in the Northeast is unlikely to be seriously challenged. The Cook Political Reports projects the House races in New Hampshire as the only two in which Republicans have a chance of winning, and the party may have trouble retaining Mr. Gregg’s Senate seat. Some Republicans already are bemoaning what they say is shaping up to be a lost opportunity.

The NRCC has particularly targeted two-term Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, New Hampshire Democrat.

“Her voting record is a rubber stamp straight down the Democratic list,” said the NRCC’s Mr. Mazzola.

Manchester Mayor Frank Guinta is a GOP favorite and the leading candidate in the state’s Sept. 14 primary.

During his two terms as mayor, Mr. Guinta significantly reduced violent crime and lowered taxes, and he has criticized Ms. Shea-Porter’s support of President Obama’s health care law and the $862 billion economic stimulus.

“If you’re a spender, you’re out,” Mr. Guinta has said.

Ms. Shea-Porter’s office did not reply to requests to comment for this article.

Other top candidates in that primary includeRepublican National Committee memberSean Mahoney and defense contractor Rich Ashooh.

Last month, Mr. Mazzola downplayed the fact that Ms. Shea-Porter was not listed among the vulnerable candidates for whom the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee reserved TV ad time this fall.

“Take it to the bank that [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi will do all she can to defend Carol Shea-Porter, one of her most loyal supporters,” he said.

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