John Gregg: Marginal Numbers

New Hampshire’s two Democratic members of the U.S. House, Annie Kuster and Carol Shea-Porter, are going to have to work hard this year to win re-election.

This according to a WMUR Granite State Poll by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center released this week that says both incumbents face “serious re-election challenges.”

Kuster, a first-term congresswoman from Hopkinton whose Second District seat includes the Upper Valley, has only a 30 percent favorability rating.

While the two Republicans vying to unseat her, former state Sen. Gary Lambert, R-Nashua, and state Rep. Marilinda Garcia, R-Salem, have low name recognition, they are running competitively with the first-term Democrat in the UNH survey.

Kuster had 38 percent support from likely voters in a recent UNH poll, compared to 34 percent for Lambert and 26 percent undecided. (Another 2 percent said they would vote for someone else).

As for Garcia, she enjoys 30 percent support from likely voters in a head-to-head matchup, compared to 36 percent for Kuster, 30 percent undecided, and 4 percent for another candidate.

“Kuster remains vulnerable as her favorability ratings and trial heat numbers indicate,” Andrew Smith, director of the UNH Survey Center, said in a news release. “Typically, an incumbent with less than 50 percent support is in for a tough fight, but an incumbent below 40 percent is in real trouble, especially when her challengers are unknown.”

Shea-Porter, the First District lawmaker, has a 39 percent favorability rating but is trailing former U.S. Rep. Frank Guinta, a Manchester Republican. He picked up 45 percent support, to 39 percent for Shea-Porter, in a head-to-head contest. Shea-Porter had a 10 percentage point lead over another Republican candidate, Dan Innis of Portsmouth.

Crunching the Pot Numbers

The UNH poll also shows that support for legalizing marijuana for recreational use in New Hampshire continues to gain steam.

Some 53 percent of respondents favor legalization, to 38 percent opposed, a shift from February 2013 when the pro-pot sentiment was just 48 percent to 45 percent.

The survey found that listeners of New Hampshire Public Radio strongly favor legalization (63 percent), while opposition was strongest among Tea Party supporters. Fifty-seven percent of them opposed legalization.

Support for marijuana legalization is even stronger when respondents were asked about a proposal to sell it at licensed outlets and tax it like liquor. It’s the New Hampshire way, after all.

“Clearly, New Hampshire citizens (and voters, Governor) want this bill ... passed,” state Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, a Manchester Republican who sponsored a legalization bill that passed the House last month, said in an email Wednesday.

Change of Address

Two of the Upper Valley members of the New Hampshire Senate have changed towns — which is a bit unusual — though they remain safely ensconced in their districts.

State Sen. Bob Odell, the Newport-area Republican who chairs the Senate Ways and Means Committee, recently sold the old farmhouse in Lempster he had shared with his late wife, Sandy, and moved to a home they also owned in New London.

“My wife and I had a really good run at the farm,” Odell said of Sandy, who died in 2009 of ovarian cancer.

“I’ve downsized, and live a much more modest life in terms of the scale of things,” Odell said. “It was 100 acres in Lempster, and this is an acre.”

A stepdaughter and three grandchildren live nearby in New London.

Meanwhile, Democratic state Sen. David Pierce, last year moved to Lebanon from Hanover, where he had served in the New Hampshire House and established himself politically in the Upper Valley.

Pierce’s move comes after he and his longtime partner, Robert Duff, divorced. The two are continuing to share custody of their daughters. The family figured prominently in an influential speech Pierce delivered during a House floor debate in March 2009 to help win passage of the bill which legalized gay marriage in New Hampshire.

Briefly Noted

∎ Former Strafford resident Kevin Ellis, who worked as a top lobbyist and public relations strategist in Montpelier, has launched a new firm. Ellis is a co-founder and partner at Ellis Mills Public Affairs. Among his clients is Vermont Telephone Co. has launched a campaign finance database to track political donors in Vermont races. Secretary of State Jim Condos is also trying to modernize the state’s digitized elections database.