GREENLAND — Some are calling the contest a "three-match." For the third time Democrat Carol Shea-Porter will face Republican Frank Guinta in the state's 1st Congressional District contest this fall.
In 2010, Guinta unseated Shea-Porter. In 2012, Shea-Porter returned the favor. In 2014, the race is so close recent polls show the race tied.
Of the 435 contests for the U.S. House this is the only one in the country that is a three-match. This means that for voters in Manchester, the Lakes Region and the Seacoast, who vote in this district it is deja vu all over again — and again.
Many ask if these two are really the best the area can up with. After all, if you believe the polls, neither are particularly well liked. But focusing on just these two misses the bigger picture. To understand why this is happening you also must mention others, namely President Barack Obama and two guys named Andrew Hosmer and Dan Innis.
The Shea-Porter versus Guinta match-up, after all, is the product of the current state of American and New Hampshire politics. To boil it all down, the reason we have these candidates a third time is that neither one can be defeated in a primary and then in the general election. They either ride the political wave in or out.
It is a pattern of sorts even for New Hampshire. A University of Minnesota political scientist found that since the 1850s one of out of five Congressional races in the Granite State were rematches. It has been 50 years since the last "three-match" took place in the state.
David Wasserman, a House race expert for the Cook Political Report, said "it's logical" Shea-Porter and Guinta decided to mount comebacks.
"They know well that their prospects depend more on the pendulum of the national environment and turnout than their own campaigns and personal qualities," Wasserman said.
This is where Andrew Hosmer and Dan Innis come in. Hosmer, now a Democratic state Senator from Laconia, thought he could challenge Shea-Porter in her Democratic primary after she lost in 2010. He even got some political luck during his short lived primary against Shea-Porter: Portsmouth's Joanne Dowdell, another female progressive ran and possibly splitting Shea-Porter's base. In the end, Shea-Porter had such huge appeal among those who bother to vote in our state's low turnout primaries, she could not be beat. This point became so obvious that Hosmer and Dowdell dropped out of the race before they even got their names on the ballot.
In September, Guinta had an opponent for his Republican primary, facing off against Innis, the former University of New Hampshire business school dean. But among the most active base voters, Guinta was their choice for a third primary in a row.
In this way the Congressional politics in New Hampshire is not all that different from Congressional politics everywhere else, where all that really matters are the primaries. Over decades, partisans drew up Congressional districts meant to advantage one party or the other. In Republican district, for example, all that matters is winning the primary, because the general election is no contest. The same concept is true about Democratic districts. This is part of the reason why American politics has become so polarized: For the U.S. House candidates there is no incentive to play to the political center.
Though both of New Hampshire's Congressional districts are relatively evenly split between the parties, which does make them unique. But this means they are also more susceptible to the national political swings.
This is where Obama comes in. When Obama was popular locally like in 2008 and 2012, Shea-Porter, the Democrat, won. When he wasn't so much, like in 2010, Guinta won. Guinta is hoping that Obama's low approval ratings will help him again this year.
Here is the crazy thing: if Guinta does win in November, odds are that he will face Shea-Porter again in 2016.
(James Pindell covers New Hampshire politics for WMUR. You can follow his breaking news and analysis at WMUR.com/politicalscoop.)