- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Before “tea partyers” unified to bemoan the tax-and-spend ways of Democrat-dominated Washington, the Republican mayor of Manchester, N.H., drove a tax cut through the Democrat-controlled board of aldermen.

Mayor Frank Guinta says the message is clear for a Republican Party that no longer holds a House seat anywhere in New England: Cutting taxes and spending is the way to the swing voter’s heart, even in liberal-leaning blue states.

“We’ve really changed the debate in Manchester, rather than, ‘How high are taxes going to be this year’ to, ‘Hey, we could have a tax cut,’” said Mr. Guinta, who will try for a Democratically held seat next year when he leaves office.

“If you’re a spender, you’re out, and I think it’s a good time for someone like me to be running who in the toughest times for Republicans to win was doing the opposite of what some Republicans were doing. It shows people I have the conviction and courage to stand by my principles,” Mr. Guinta said.

If he wins the Republican nomination — Bob Bestani is seeking the nod as well, though national Republicans recruited Mr. Guinta — he’ll face Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, a two-term liberal Democrat who rose to prominence as an anti-Bush activist.

Mr. Guinta said Ms. Shea-Porter’s consistent support of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi makes her vulnerable in a time of unprecedented government spending. She’s voted in favor the $787 stimulus bill, for Democrats’ “cap-and-trade” plan and for the health care overhaul this weekend.

A spokesman for the state Democratic Party said Republicans are misreading New England voters if they think they can re-establish a foothold.

“Guinta’s not living in reality,” Derek Richer said. “The fact is the Republican Party is the minority party in New Hampshire because they don’t share the values of the people of the Granite State.”

Mr. Richer said voters there remember the years when President Bush was in the White House and Republicans controlled Congress unkindly.

“The last thing the people of New Hampshire need is a representative who is determined to bring back the failed policies of the past, which is exactly what Frank Guinta would do,” he said.

New England Republicans became extinct in the House with last November’s ouster of former Rep. Christopher Shays of Connecticut. There are three of them in the Senate, but it’s not guaranteed that the Republican Party will be able to hold on to retiring Sen. Judd Gregg’s seat next year.

Still, last Tuesday’s elections left Republicans optimistic that the tide is turning in their favor nationwide. Victories for the Republican Party in two gubernatorial races balanced out a bruising loss in a special congressional election in upstate New York.

But Mr. Guinta, whose tenure as mayor ends in January, said voters in New Hampshire care less about party and more about principle, meaning that Republicans who can prove they will rein in spending could have cross-party appeal.

“In order for Republicans to win, myself included, we’ve got to go and get people, Republicans and independents and Democrats, to listen to us again. We’ve got to earn their respect and earn their support again, and you can’t just do it by rhetoric; you’ve got to do it by showing them what you’ve done,” he said.

Mr. Guinta isn’t the only candidate eyeing a Republican Party resurgence in New England. Former Rep. Charlie Bass is mulling a campaign to regain his seat in the second district, which he lost in 2006 to Democratic Rep. Paul Hodes, who is running for the Senate.

The 1st Congressional District is the most likely to flip Republican, according to Mr. Guinta, who noted that Ms. Shea-Porter was re-elected last year with 51 percent of the vote with President Obama at the top of the ballot. Manchester, the largest city in northern New England, accounts for about 30 percent of the district.

“Carol Shea-Porter has become disconnected from voters in New Hampshire, an unfortunate reality that shows not only in her radically left voting record but also in her actions — literally avoiding her constituents and carelessly backtracking on promises,” said Tory Mazzola, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. “New Hampshire voters want a strong voice in Congress that fights for fiscal responsibility, limited government and job creation, not someone like Carol Shea-Porter who caves to Pelosi and believes in big government.”

Republicans cite Ms. Shea-Porter’s initial refusal to schedule town-hall meetings in August as an example of how the former activist has turned into a Washington insider. In response, Mr. Guinta hosted a health care town-hall meeting of his own.

Ms. Shea-Porter leads in the money race, however, with more than $390,000 raised through Sept. 30 compared with $236,000 for Mr. Guinta, according to campaign finance records.

While Mr. Guinta has blasted his opponent for reneging on her promise not to accept money from political action committees, Mr. Richer of the state Democratic Party called Mr. Guinta a hypocrite for attending a D.C. fundraiser hosted by a restaurant trade group and accepting a $2,500 PAC donation from a health insurance company.

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