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GOP’s O’Brien Mulls Kuster Challenge

Mont Vernon — Three months into his new stint on the back bench, controversial state Rep. William O’Brien is eyeing his next political post.

O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon, who became a lightning rod during two terms as House Speaker, plans to file paperwork next week to form a campaign committee to challenge sitting U.S. Rep. Ann McLane Kuster in New Hampshire’s 2nd Congressional district.

The move does not signal a formal entry into the 2014 race, said O’Brien, who first acknowledged an interest in the seat this winter. Rather, it is a means to better gauge public interest, he said yesterday.

“I’m very interested in it. I just want to make sure there’s support out there,” O’Brien said. “We have certainly been approached by a number of people who are ... very disappointed in the current representation they have in Congress. I want to make sure, though, if I do it, I won’t be wasting people’s time.”

Reached for comment, representatives for Kuster, a Hopkinton Democrat and first-term congresswoman, elected not to comment on O’Brien or any other potential opponent.

“Rep. Kuster’s main focus right now isn’t on campaigning or politics — it’s on serving the hardworking middle class families and small businesses she came to Congress to represent,” Rob Friedlander, a Kuster spokesman, said yesterday in a statement. “In the weeks and months to come, she looks forward to continuing her work with both Republicans and Democrats to find common sense, bipartisan solutions to our country’s challenges.”

O’Brien maintained that such bipartisan efforts would be a change in direction for Kuster, who the former Speaker says has disappointed voters since she took office in January by supporting higher taxes and increased government spending.

“People recognize that Ann McLane Kuster is not somebody who recognizes the values of New Hampshire generally, and specifically voters in the 2nd district,” O’Brien said. “They don’t expect someone to be in Congress supporting a budget (proposal) ... that would never reach the point of being balanced. ... That’s one of things that has really motivated me going forward.”

In Kuster’s place, O’Brien would bring his fiscal conservative views to Congress, he said.

During his time as Speaker, O’Brien drew sharp criticism from Democratic opponents and social service providers alike for pushing deep cuts to state health and educational programs, among other areas.

“Bill O’Brien is New Hampshire’s least popular politician for good reason,” Ray Buckley, chairman of the state Democratic Party, said yesterday in a statement. “His reckless and irresponsible agenda killed hundreds of New Hampshire jobs, threatened essential health care services ... and ruthlessly attacked the rights of hard working New Hampshire families.”

Over his tenure, O’Brien also drew praise from fiscal conservatives for his 2011-12 budget, which reduced state spending by 11 percent.

“Those who want to live within a reasonable means of taxation are somehow controversial,” O’Brien said yesterday. “It’s not controversial to say we can’t tax people too much money.”

No other candidates have formally declared for the race, but former state Sen. Gary Lambert, R-Nashua, and Karen Testerman, a former gubernatorial hopeful from Franklin, are among those considering a run for the seat.

“The more people that want to run, it can only help the person who wins in the end,” said Lambert, who served one term in the Senate in 2011-12.

“I don’t think Speaker O’Brien can win,” he said. “Bill has a different type of personality than I do. I’m a very inclusive guy. Bill is very exclusive. General election voters are not too kind with that kind of personality.”