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New Hampshire Grows Weary Of Same Two Candidates Running For Fourth Straight Election

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

For the fourth straight election, voters in New Hampshire's first congressional district will see the same two names on their ballots. Frank Guinta and Carol Shea-Porter have traded their House seat back and forth every two years since 2010, a testament to how evenly split the district is between Republicans and Democrats. But as New Hampshire Public Radio's Todd Bookman reports, some voters are getting tired of the endless sequels.

TODD BOOKMAN, BYLINE: At first it was fresh, new.

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UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: We have two candidates at tonight's debate, and they are Republican Frank Guinta and Democratic Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter.

BOOKMAN: Then two years later, a political reboot.

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UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: They are incumbent Republican Frank Guinta and Democrat Carol Shea-Porter.

BOOKMAN: By 2014, it was like, all right, the rubber match.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: The incumbent, Democratic Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter. Her Republican challenger, former Congressman Frank Guinta. Now, let's be honest, there's a history between these two candidates.

BOOKMAN: Yeah, there sure is. Watch a debate between these two and it's pretty clear the candidates have grown weary of each other. The fourth time around, you can't blame voters for feeling the same way.

Are you tired of seeing the same two names jockey back and forth?

DENNIS SULLIVAN: There is some of that, I must say. Maybe it's time for both of them to go away.

BOOKMAN: That's Dennis Sullivan of Dover. This region of eastern New Hampshire is one of just a few dozen true swing districts left in the country. So while the race should be getting lots of attention, UNH political analyst Andy Smith says there just isn't much enthusiasm on either side.

ANDY SMITH: Yeah, I think that it's much less entertaining each time because there's really nothing different.

BOOKMAN: Neither candidate strays very much from their party line. The outcome has more to do with what kind of election year it is. Shea-Porter has won the head-to-head in presidential years while Guinta's two victories came during midterms, when Democratic turnout is typically lower. Recent polls show a similar trend shaping up in 2016 with Shea-Porter holding a double-digit lead. A campaign finance scandal is also contributing to Guinta's struggles. But with both candidates' strengths and weaknesses so well-known, constituents like Laura Chapin would be happy with some fresh blood.

LAURA CHAPIN: It's a little difficult to imagine that there isn't anybody else out there that could do a better job or at least have some other options.

BOOKMAN: There is one new wrinkle in the 2016 edition of this race.

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SHAWN O'CONNOR: I am Shawn O'Connor. I am the independent running for Congress here in the 1st District in New Hampshire.

BOOKMAN: O'Connor is self-financing a run after dropping out of the Democratic primary earlier this year. He's running TV ads and also doing some retail politicking, like this stop at a Portsmouth nursing home. The "Groundhog Day" feel of the race comes up quickly in his stump speech.

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O'CONNOR: And I think that it's crazy that we've had the same two career politicians in D.C. who have gone back and forth and back and forth.

BOOKMAN: But after three previous contests, O'Connor will have to overcome a serious lack of name recognition compared to Guinta and Shea-Porter. Regardless of who prevails, political analyst Andy Smith says don't be surprised if those two names also pop up in 2018.

SMITH: They both think they can win it. And if you both think you have a chance, why not?

BOOKMAN: In this political tug-of-war, the candidates do seem awfully willing to dust themselves off and try again. For NPR News, I'm Todd Bookman in Concord, N.H. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.