For GOP Hopefuls In N.H., Economy Is No. 1 Topic The Republicans who want to replace retiring Sen. Judd Gregg are hearing from voters that even though the state's unemployment rate is well below the national average, they're very worried about how things are going.
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For GOP Hopefuls In N.H., Economy Is No. 1 Topic

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For GOP Hopefuls In N.H., Economy Is No. 1 Topic

For GOP Hopefuls In N.H., Economy Is No. 1 Topic

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Now, from primary care to the primary campaign in New Hampshire. Four Republicans are running in the primary to replace GOP Senator Judd Gregg. And as they campaign throughout the Granite State, they are hearing one crystal-clear refrain. No surprise - people are worried about the economy.

NPR's Ari Shapiro is in New Hampshire, and he's been hearing that message, too.

(Soundbite of church bells)

ARI SHAPIRO: Stand on historic Maine Street in Littleton, New Hampshire, and gaze into the front window of Time to Consign. There is only one conclusion you can possibly reach.

Mr. JOHN MORELLO (Owner, Time to Consign): This is Elvis Week. Elvis is in the house.

SHAPIRO: An Elvis collector asked for John Morello's help selling this treasure trove of memorabilia.

Mr. MORELLO: We sold about eight pieces of Elvis already: a very large, life-sized poster right to some old, collectible - actual posters from his concerts.

SHAPIRO: Morello opened this consignment shop three years ago, figuring the bad economy would make people want to empty out their attics. But this isnt all he does.

Mr. MORELLO: I work here, I work at Home Depot, and I work at a restaurant.

SHAPIRO: Thats huge.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MORELLO: To pay the bills, it's the only way you can do it.

SHAPIRO: Morello's situation helps explain why people in New Hampshire are so worried about the economy, even though the state's unemployment rate is about half the national average.

All four Republican candidates hoping to succeed Senator Judd Gregg focused on this issue above all else.

I caught up with them campaigning this week, and here's a quick summary of their messages.

Mr. BILL BINNIE (Republican Senatorial Candidate, New Hampshire): The bottom line is we need jobs. We need economy opportunity, economic growth.

Mr. JIM BENDER (Republican Senatorial Candidate, New Hampshire): I know how to recruit and attract new business to New Hampshire.

Mr. OVIDE LAMONTAGNE (Republican Senatorial Candidate, New Hampshire): We need to get more robust recovery under way.

Ms. KELLY AYOTTE (Republican Senatorial Candidate, New Hampshire): Our small-business owners are very concerned about the state of the economy.

SHAPIRO: That was Bill Binnie, Jim Bender, Ovide Lamontagne and Kelly Ayotte. If Ayotte's voice sounds different from the others, that's because I spoke with her by phone. She was on her way to a fundraiser in Texas with some of the most powerful Republicans in the Senate. Her opponents complain that she is the anointed choice of Washington.

Ms. AYOTTE: I think the description of me as the establishment candidate is actually ridiculous. The bottom line is that I've never run for office before. I was an appointed attorney general.

SHAPIRO: Ayotte is generally considered the front-runner, followed by Bill Binnie. Binnie has been dumping tons of his own money into TV ads, many of which attack Ayotte. In an interview, Binnie defended his approach and looped back to issue number one.

Mr. BINNIE: Kelly is a lawyer. I'm a businessperson. Kelly has dealt with putting people in jail, for lack of a better term, and I've dealt with putting people in jobs.

SHAPIRO: The challenge for candidate Jim Bender is to move beyond being described as the other wealthy businessman.

Mr. BENDER: Have I been characterized that way?

SHAPIRO: He says the key is to campaign tirelessly.

Mr. BENDER: There's a shoe repair shop in Nashua Center, Gary's Shoe Repair. I've had five pairs of shoes repaired there since January. The other rich guy probably doesn't even repair his shoes; he buys new ones.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SHAPIRO: If Ayotte has support from Washington, and the businessmen have the support of their own, personal wealth, Ovide Lamontagne has the support of the Republican Party's right wing.

Mr. LAMONTAGNE: The voters are looking for authenticity. And if they're looking for a conservative candidate, I'm the only conservative candidate in this race.

SHAPIRO: The thing is while small government and low taxes have always been big in New Hampshire, Republicans here are, for the most part, not very conservative on social issues. According to a recent poll, the average New Hampshire Republican is more pro choice than the average American.

This is also one of the least religious states in the country. And when the state legislature passed same-sex marriage, most people just shrugged.

Candidates and voters here all say they want to change Washington. When Lamontagne walks into the Turnage Barber Shop in downtown Plymouth, frustration with the status quo erupts out of a customer named Martin Wagoner(ph).

Mr. MARTIN WAGONER: Washington is a complete cesspool.

Mr. LAMONTAGNE: We're going to make some changes.

Mr. WAGONER: How in the hell are you going to make changes when it's the same damn party all the time? You get the Republicans or the Democrats. You can't get anybody else in. And this other - Tea Party, it's the same Republicans.

Mr. LAMONTAGNE: Well, I haven't lost hope in America.

SHAPIRO: Whoever wins the primary will run against Democrat Paul Hodes, who is trying to move from the House to the Senate.

In the last two elections, Democrats swept New Hampshire from top to bottom. But political scientist Andy Smith, from the University of New Hampshire, expects it to go differently this time.

Mr. ANDY SMITH (Political Scientist, University of New Hampshire): Republicans are very highly motivated. Democrats aren't really happy about what's going on in Washington and the state of the economy. So I don't think that the state is becoming more Republican suddenly. It's just that Republicans are going to get out and vote more than Democrats are.

SHAPIRO: The primary is September 14th, and then it's just seven more weeks until Election Day.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Manchester, New Hampshire.

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