ROCHESTER — The contest for control of the New Hampshire Senate could hinge on the outcome of the race between the Republican incumbent Sam Caltaldo and his Democratic rival Rich Leonard in District 6, consisting of the city of Rochester and towns of Alton, Barnstead, Farmington, Gilmanton and New Durham.
Two years ago, Cataldo , after serving three terms in the New Hampshire House of Representatives, won the open seat, topping Leonard, who was making his political debut, by 633 votes, 12,760 to 12,127. Cataldo lost Rochester, but carried all five towns with his 793 vote margin in bright red Alton proving decisive. Running in a presidential election year contributed to Leonard's strong showing and he may find himself challenged to match it this time around.
Cataldo, a native of Massachusetts who has lived in Farmington since 2001, attended Northeastern University, served six years in the United States Air Force and worked as an engineer at Avco Corporation, an aeronautical affiliate of Textron. Semi-retired, he describes himself as a computer consultant.
The pharmacy manager at Hannaford's store in Alton, Leonard also owns Miller Farm with its orchard of 380 apple and peach trees and sugar shack. He is a member of the Public Health Advisory Council-Executive Committee and University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension Service in Strafford County. Raised in Hanover, Mass., he lived in Rochester for 26 years before moving to New Durham in 2004.
Both Cataldo and Leonard favor repealing the death penalty and permitting same sex marriage, but disagree about virtually everything else. An outspoken conservative Cataldo has associated with the Tea Party and 9/12 Group and drawn support from Americans for Prosperity and Cornerstone Action. Leonard, a lifelong Democrat, enjoys the support of labor unions and liberal advocacy groups.
Cataldo supports right-to-work legislation and opposes raising the minimum wage while Leonard takes the opposite positions on both issues. Cataldo disputes the notion that man-made emissions contribute to climate change while Leonard accepts the science of global warming and supports measures, like the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, aimed at mitigating it. Cataldo believes that voter fraud skews elections in New Hampshire and insists requiring voter identification is necessary to prevent it. Leonard claims the extent of voter is exaggerated and steps to eliminate it hinder people from voting.
Critical of what he calls Obamacare, Cataldo prefers a less regulated, more competitive approach to health care, emphasizing that Frisbie Memorial Hospital was excluded from the provider network of Anthem, the sole insurance carrier to participate in the state exchange. Leonard fully supports the Affordable Care Act, stressing that when five health insurance carriers join the exchange in 2015 the increased competition will provide greater choice and lower costs.
Likewise, Cataldo opposed the decision to expand Medicaid, explaining that when the program sunsets in two years and the federal funding is reduced the only way to fund coverage for some 20,000 people will be a sales or income tax. Leonard, whose family lost their health insurance after his wife was stricken with cancer but regained coverage through the Affordable Care Act, was drawn to politics by the desire to ensure affordable access to healthcare for all.
Cataldo contends that Common Core will hinder the achievement of students and co-sponsored legislation to delay the introduction of Common Core until the fiscal impacts of the program were studied. Stressing the importance of enabling students to compete with their counterparts abroad, Leonard believes that Common Core will improve elementary and secondary education.
Cataldo supported the introduction of casino gambling, which he claims will generate revenue and employment, but called for two casinos — one in the south and one in the north, not one. While acknowledging the need for additional revenue and the prospect of additional jobs, Leonard has indicated he will consider particular proposals to expand gambling on their merits.
Both parties will keep a close eye on the results in District 6 where the balance of power in the Senate could well be determined.