Primary Source: Messner’s nonanswer in debate tells all

  • John P. Gregg. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 10/21/2020 10:09:09 PM
Modified: 10/21/2020 10:09:03 PM

New Hampshire offers some excitement on Nov. 3, given its swing-state status and potentially crucial four electoral votes, and polls indicate a couple of down-ballot races may be worth watching as well.

Former Vice President Joe Biden holds an 11-percentage-point lead over President Donald Trump in recent New Hampshire polls, according to the Real Clear Politics average, though we all know how polls failed four years ago.

Only 44% of respondents to a University of New Hampshire Survey Center Granite State Poll released last week approved of the Republican Trump’s job performance, compared with 55% who disapproved, making his reelection efforts “more challenging,” the pollsters said.

There is better news for Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, who was leading Democratic challenger Dan Feltes 62% to 37% in a UNH Survey Center poll released last week, with the two-term governor enjoying especially strong support from Republicans and independents.

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., appears on course to win a third term. She had 55% support from likely New Hampshire voters, compared with just 40% for Republican challenger Corky Messner, a former corporate lawyer from Colorado who has yet to shake the impression that he is a carpetbagger.

That was reinforced in a WMUR-TV debate Tuesday night when Messner, who only voted in New Hampshire for the first time in 2018, was asked where the best place was to stop and enjoy the view along the Kancamagus Highway, the scenic Route 112 drive through the White Mountains.

“Aw, jeez, the best place,” Messner said, setting up his nonanswer. “You know, I have been all over New Hampshire, every corner of the state, and there are so many views, wonderful views in New Hampshire that it’s hard for me to say which is the best.”

And with that, it’s hard not to think of Republican transplant Scott Brown, who in 2014 had no clue about Sullivan County when asked about it during a debate with Shaheen.

As for Shaheen, a former governor who grew up in Missouri but moved to New Hampshire almost 50 years ago, she identified a spot near an old covered bridge along the Kanc when the foliage is “at peak.” But Shaheen couldn’t help but show her Midwest roots when she said the bridge crosses a “creek,” referring to the Swift River.

Polls show races may get a little closer when looking at the 2nd Congressional District, where U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster, D-N.H., is seeking a fifth term in a rematch against 2018 challenger Steve Negron, a former Republican state representative from Nashua. Last week’s UNH Survey Center poll found Kuster with just a four-point lead over Negron, 49% to 45%, though she enjoyed a wide lead among younger voters and was well ahead with seniors, as well. Negron was leading among adults ages 35 to 49, the poll found.

And Democratic candidates for the Legislature hold “small advantages” overall, indicating that control of the New Hampshire House and Senate are still in doubt. UNH pollsters also said races for the Executive Council, which must confirm judges and other major appointments, are also tied.

District 5 rift

Lebanon City Councilor Sue Prentiss has been plugging away in her campaign for the open District 5 Senate seat after narrowly defeating former state Rep. Beatriz Pastor, D-Lyme, by 72 votes out of almost 8,200 cast in the Democratic primary.

Prentiss has been holding Zoom town halls with voters on Thursday nights and recently attended a “friendraiser” with Kuster.

But Pastor has never called to concede or congratulate Prentiss on her primary victory. During the primary, Pastor and her allies in Hanover and Lyme tried to highlight the fact that Prentiss had been a Republican until she left the GOP because of Trump. Voters in the rest of the district may have been more impressed by the fact that Prentiss went on to co-chair Pete Buttigieg’s New Hampshire presidential campaign.

“It’s unfortunate, that’s all I can say,” Prentiss said when asked about the silence from Pastor.

Also of note is that outgoing state Sen. Martha Hennessey, the Hanover Democrat who endorsed Pastor from the start, has urged her Facebook followers to support Feltes, Biden, and Senate District 8 candidate Jenn Alford-Teaster, but as of midday Wednesday had not done the same for Prentiss. Hennessey said she will always vote for the Democratic candidate but declined comment beyond that.

Prentiss said she has a lot of respect for Hennessey, citing her work on “common-sense” gun measures, reproductive rights and other legislation.

An email and phone call to the Republican candidate in the race, Charlestown resident Timothy O’Hearne, were not returned on Wednesday. It appears that O’Hearne has some lawn signs but has not been campaigning much in the district, which runs from Lyme to Charlestown and also includes Lebanon, Hanover, Claremont, Plainfield, Cornish, Enfield and Canaan.

Grafton County races

Republicans are trying to chip away at the Democratic hold on the three-member Grafton County Commission. Former Sheriff Doug Dutile, a Haverhill Republican, is challenging Commissioner Linda Lauer, a Bath Democrat. And Plymouth-area Commissioner Marcia Morris is facing a challenge from Republican Omer Ahern Jr., who won election to the panel in 2010 during the Tea Party surge. Commissioner Wendy Piper, an Enfield Democrat, is unopposed for her Lebanon-area seat.

Sheriff Jeff Stiegler and County Attorney Marcie Hornick, Democrats who both first won election in 2018, are unopposed this year.

John P. Gregg can be reached at

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