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New Hampshire Primary Preview: Races To Watch

Robin Marty

The state of New Hampshire primary could offer some historic results for the 2012 election.

At this point in the election cycle, with ads peppering the airwaves and debate prep beginning, the idea that some states haven’t even selected their candidates seems almost anti-climactic. But in New Hampshire, today’s primary could have national implications, both in policy and historical significance.

“Live Free or Die” is the state motto, yet numerous New Hampshire politicians feel that the words don’t pertain to issues such as abortion or even birth control. As the state prepares to whittle down candidates in tomorrow’s primary election, a handful of candidates could change the way reproductive services are access both in the state and throughout the country.

The Executive Council has recently turned into what could almost be thought of as its own branch of state government, as the group has expanded its powers to allow it to veto or approve every bit of spending in the budget. It’s an expansion of power that caused the local Planned Parenthood affiliates to lose their state-based family planning funding, and the council is now considering pulling the organization’s ability to dispense birth control all together. The balance of power could be shifted if a Democrat wins the open seat being vacated by former council member Daniel St. Hilaire, who was the swing vote in de-funding Planned Parenthood.

Colin Van Ostern, John D. Shea, and Shawn Mickelonis will all be vying for the Democratic nomination. Of the three, Van Ostern has been the most vocal about the issue of Planned Parenthood, causing Republican nominee Michael Tierney to accuse him of having his campaign funded by the reproductive health care organization.  Whichever of the three Democrats win the primary will face off with Tierney, who is behind the lawsuit to have Planned Parenthood’s pharmaceutical license ended, in the general election.

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Democrats aren’t the only party with a highly watched, non-standard political primary race this year. Typically, the campaign for county sheriff isn’t one that draws a lot of attention–especially not national attention. But due to the quick-draw remarks of potential sheriff Frank Szabo, all eyes are now on New Hampshire. Szabo made waves when he claimed that as sherriff he would arrest those who performed abortions, and if that wasn’t good enough, he’d use deadly force if necessary. He soon after apologized, saying he let his imagination get away from him, but potential voters haven’t been nearly as forgiving. One potential constituent wrote on the local Patch site:

And who is going to protect us from you? When you go in to arrest a doctor for providing a legal service, or when you decide it’s okay to shoot someone else because they are doing something legal that you don’t believe in, who is going to protect us from you?
You sign your letters “In Liberty”. You forgot the “for All”. Liberty is not just for those with whom you agree, and you DO NOT have the liberty to harm others with your actions.

Szabo is running against Republican incumbent James Hardy, who has said that unlike his opponent, he will enforce state law, not his own personal interpretation of the constitution.

Hardy, 54, of Pelham, condemned his opponent’s comments about abortion doctors, calling them “reckless and irresponsible.”

“This all boils down to he’s trying to substitute his opinions for what state law is,” Hardy said. “He has this view of natural law that’s contrary to the criminal code.”

In both cases, the winner of the primary will go up against unopposed candidates.  That’s not the case in the governor’s race, where both parties have contentions and, in the case of the Democrats, historical campaigns.

The Republicans have a three way battle for the nomination, with Kevin Smith, Ovide Lamontagne and Robert Tarr all seeking a win.  All three candidates consider themselves to be “pro-life.” However, both Tarr and Lamontagne claim that their opposition to funding Planned Parenthood is reliant solely on its providing abortions, with Lamontagne even stating that the group should set up a separate entity in order to continue to receive funds. The two also state that the support parental notification and later term abortions, although Tarr says that other than ensuring no tax payer funding of abortion occurs, the laws seem to be enough, and Lamontagne claims he has no interest in focusing on abortion restrictions.

Kevin Smith was the executive director of Cornerstone Action group prior to his resignation to run for governor.  A conservative advocacy organization that fights against reproductive rights and for “traditional marriage,” the group considers its most recent victories to be limiting equal rights for LGBT persons and fighting health care reform

Whichever of the three GOP candidates to win will face one of three potential Democratic candidates–Jackie Cilley, Maggie Hassan or Bill Kennedy. Should Cilley or Hassan win the nomination, she would be the only female candidate to be running for governor this election cycle.  Hassan has a slight lead over Cilley, both of whom have similar positions on most issues, but differ on whether or not to take a traditional state pledge to refuse to raise taxes. Hassan took the pledge while Cilley refused.

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