Claims of Granite State connection animate Democratic primary in congressional race

By JOSH ROGERS

New Hampshire Public Radio

Published: 06-18-2024 6:06 PM

When Maggie Goodlander and Colin Van Ostern took their turns behind the microphone at the Cheshire County Democrats Spaghetti Dinner in Walpole recently, there wasn’t time for subtlety. The candidates for the 2nd Congressional District Democratic primary race only had five minutes to speak, and the constraints forced them to make basic choices about what to emphasize — and what not to.

“My name is Maggie Tamposi Goodlander, and I’m running for Congress in the 2nd District to fight like hell for the values I learned growing up right here in New Hampshire,” Goodlander said by way of introduction.

Goodlander’s foregrounding of her mother’s surname — Tamposi — was one choice. “Vivian” is Goodlander’s given middle name, and “Tamposi” is not a name the 37-year-old has previously featured professionally. The omission hasn’t hindered what’s been a fast climb in D.C. legal and political circles.

But here in New Hampshire, the name Tamposi might ring some bells.

Goodlander’s mother, Betty Tamposi, is a former state lawmaker who ran for Congress in 1988 as a Republican.

Her grandfather, Sam Tamposi, was a legendary Nashua developer and part owner of the Red Sox.

Goodlander herself grew up in Nashua, and since 2018 she’s owned a home in Portsmouth, in the state’s 1st Congressional District, though before launching her campaign last month she began renting a house in Nashua, where she hadn’t lived or voted since she was in college.

Colin Van Ostern, meanwhile, made his own choices about what personal details to stress during his remarks before Democratic activists in Walpole.

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“I’ve had the honor of representing a lot of people in this room, and I’ve driven the backroads of Cheshire and Sullivan counties, selling Stonyfield and Brown Cow yogurt. I’ve hosted field hearings, with state officials, like trying to get the Hinsdale bridge back on the 10-year plan, which we did,” Van Ostern said.

Van Ostern’s emphasis on his time as a member of the Executive Council is his way to prove his roots in state politics.

Van Ostern is — unlike Goodlander, but like most adults living in New Hampshire — not a native. In fact, politics is what brought him to the state in the first place, starting with a press secretary job on Jeanne Shaheen’s 2002 Senate campaign.

He met his future wife on that campaign, and after earning an MBA at Dartmouth, Van Ostern worked as business manager at Stonyfield Yogurt and at SNHU. He also launched failed bids for governor and secretary of state.

But to hear Van Ostern tell it in Walpole, these days he’s less focused on personal advancement than on the process of connecting with the state he chose to call home.

“I believe it’s about knowing the communities that you represent deeply and fighting to put them first, no matter the odds, no matter who is up against you,” Van Ostern said.

How best to introduce yourself to voters is a question any candidate seeking public office has to face.

For the candidates in the 2nd District Democratic primary, what’s notable is how much the answers to that question are so rooted in competing claims of connection to the state they’re seeking to represent.

As she watched the candidates in Walpole, Anna Tilton, a former state lawmaker, said that she — and most Democrats — would probably be fine with either Van Ostern or Goodlander representing them in Congress.

But she was also quick to size them up in biographical terms, which for Goodlander includes a Supreme Court clerkship, work on Capitol Hill advising members of Congress, and top jobs in the Biden Administration —where her husband, Jake Sullivan, works as National Security Adviser to the president.

“Jake Sullivan’s wife is Betty Tamposi’s daughter — that’s political royalty — but she doesn’t live in Nashua,” Tilton said. “I understand why she’s there. I understand it all. Colin has run a lot, but I think Colin is much more attuned to what’s going on in New Hampshire.”

So far in this race, there’s little to choose between the two Democrats, save for their biographies. As far as issues go, both Goodlander and Van Ostern mostly agree. Both promise to prioritize the defense of abortion rights; both say they will work to lower costs of everything from housing to groceries; both also promise to address climate change, and to work to secure the border in a manner consistent with policies already backed by the Biden administration.

Given that, said Chris Galdieri, a political scientist at St. Anselm College and author of a book on political carpetbagging, candidates have to find other ways to distinguish themselves in the eyes of voters.

“It really then comes down to personal characteristics, biography, background,” he said.

This race is just getting going, but there are signs that the candidates understand this.

“I’m in this race to fix Washington, not to defend it,” Van Ostern said, in a poke at Goodlander’s D.C. resume during the campaign’s first debate on WGIR radio.

“I’m not a perennial candidate; I’m not a professional politician,” Goodlander poked back, referencing Van Ostern’s long resume as a candidate and campaign worker. “This is the first time I’ve ever run, and what I can tell you is, I’ve loved the month that I’ve had on the trail.”

For both the candidates in this race, loving and staying in love with their time on the campaign trail could be critical.