Choosing sides

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  April 14, 2011

But at least seven GOP challengers have signed up local operatives to run the state for them — if they run, which at this point remains hypothetical for all of them. Unlike politics in some other places — say, Massachusetts — the competition among New Hampshire Republicans seems to have fostered goodwill and mutual admiration, rather than cliques and long-held feuds.

That's not to say relationships won't be strained over the course of a campaign. At this stage, you're likely to see these top operatives at political events, chatting and laughing with each other. That might not be the case as the primary draws nearer.

MIKE DENNEHY (HALEY BARBOUR) "Haley truly hasn't made a decision," Dennehy insisted last week in his small office near the state capitol building in Concord, where he works as a lobbyist.

Maybe so. But Barbour seemed to make his presidential plans clear when his political action committee hired Dennehy — a slender, energetic man with graying hair, best known for engineering John McCain's miracle New Hampshire victory in 2000.

Seven years later, Dennehy was fired from McCain's second campaign. Most New Hampshire GOP insiders, however, maintain that he was merely the public fall guy when McCain was floundering.

MATT MURPHY (HERMAN CAIN) Murphy was with Giuliani in the 2008 cycle, a frustrating experience he doesn't expect to relive with Cain. Cain has already visited New Hampshire five times, with Murphy helping make the introductions.

Murphy, an admirer of the more-establishment consultants on this list, thinks his advantage comes in his close work with the types of activists who emerged in the 2010 cycle. He was executive director of the New Hampshire Advantage Coalition — under its then-president Michael Biundo (see below) — comprised of grassroots conservative organizations; in 2009 he helped organize the state's first Tea Party event.

DAVE CARNEY (NEWT GINGRICH) Carney, principal of Norway Associates in Hancock, is something of a gray-haired father figure among these operatives, who speak of him with tremendous admiration. A big, cordial man, dressed in khakis and a blue plaid shirt recently as Gingrich spoke to the St. Anselm Institute of Politics, Carney's political career dates back to 1980. He played a key role with Bob Dole in 1996.

"I don't see a lot of cliquiness" among New Hampshire GOP operatives, says Carney. "We've all worked on projects for two months, for and against each other."

PAUL COLLINS (JON HUNTSMAN) If the outgoing US ambassador to China, and former Utah governor, is really running, Collins will run New Hampshire for him. That's a big, big deal. A former top staffer to both the elder and younger John Sununus (as governor and senator, respectively) — both of whom have been huge Romney backers — Collins is almost universally respected and beloved in New Hampshire Republican circles. His open commitment to an iffy-seeming candidate — especially one considered an overt threat to Romney — has surprised some people.

RICH KILLION (TIM PAWLENTY) Killion was a senior advisor on Romney's 2008 New Hampshire team, which meant that his hiring by Pawlenty's PAC raised eyebrows. Managing partner of Elevare Communications in Concord, Killion is considered a top-notch, seasoned veteran even though 2008 was his first real presidential campaign. In the 1990s, he was director of the Polling Institute at Franklin Pierce College, and during the 2000 primary cycle, he helmed the Citizens for a Sound Economy advocacy group. In 2002, he and Carney ran Bruce Keough's gubernatorial campaign.

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