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PAC pledge in NH Senate race will be all talk, no action

To pledge or not to pledge?

That’s not a new question when it comes to New Hampshire politics. Pushed primarily by Republicans, the pledge to keep New Hampshire sales and income tax free has been a staple in statewide politics for years.

Republicans and Democrats alike have sworn the pledge, feeling they otherwise risk political death by the third rail of New Hampshire politics, a sales and/or income tax.

But a different kind of pledge has emerged in the U.S. Senate campaign: the so-called People’s Pledge.

This one to eschew PAC advertising is being pushed hard by the Democratic incumbent, U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, against the quasi Republican challenger, Scott Brown.

We say quasi because Brown isn’t an officially announced candidate. He is a newly minted resident of New Hampshire, having permanently moved to Rye from Massachusetts. He served out the remaining three of Edward Kennedy’s term until 2013 after the senator’s death in August 2009.

After almost a year of flitting around the question of a run for the U.S. Senate in the Granite State, he announced last week the creation of an exploratory committee.

It’s all but certain he’ll run against Shaheen. He disappointed national Republican leaders once when he chose not to run for the Senate seat left vacant by John Kerry’s move to Secretary of State. It’s not likely he’ll back down again, given that the political balance of the U.S. Senate is in play in the 2014 mid-terms.

And, if he runs, he’s all but assured of winning the Republican primary. He’s got the buzz, he’s got the name recognition, and he’s got the money. The other announced Republicans in the race -- former state Sen. Jim Ruben, former U.S. Sen. Bob Smith, and conservative activist Karen Testerman -- frankly might as well save their money and stay home.

It’s the money that has Shaheen so aflutter.

She is pressing Brown (and only Brown at this point) on the People’s Pledge to, as the Shaheen camp recently wrote: “To keep third parties from running ads to influence the election, both candidates agree that if any third party broadcasts an ad on their behalf, the candidate being helped will contribute to a charity an amount equal to 50 percent of the cost of the ads. The other candidate gets to choose the charity getting the money.”

A Brown staffer has already told the Boston Globe that Brown “is rejecting it”, arguing that political action committee (PAC) spending has been in play for several weeks, with attack ads against Shaheen for her support of the Affordable Care Act and against Brown for his support of so-called “big oil.”

The spectre of a Brown campaign has been a boon to Shaheen fundraising as her solicitation emails raise the images of the arch-conservatives the Koch brothers and Karl Rove -- in the same breath that they mention Scott Brown.A January WMUR Granite State Poll by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center shows double digit leads in head to head match-ups with Rubens, Smith, Testerman and Brown.

But it’s still early yet, and those numbers are likely to change.

This campaign will be all about the money, pledge or no pledge. Brown isn’t likely to the pledge, PAC money will flood New Hampshire, and Shaheen will fight fire with fire.

Paul Briand is an editor with the Live Free or Die Association, a non-profit, non-partisan organization that encourages the discussion and analysis of New Hampshire politics and policies.

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