- Matt Mowers is challenging first-term Democratic US Rep. Chris Pappas in New Hampshire's 1st Congressional District.
- Mowers does not have a political resume specific to New Hampshire, where he appears to have relocated sometime within the past two years.
- Democrats have claimed that Mowers moved to the state specifically to run for office — an "increasingly common phenomenon" for New Hampshire Republicans, one expert said.
- But the 'local' pedigree simply doesn't matter as much as it might have, in part because a significant number of New Hampshire voters are also from somewhere else.
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If the "ideal Republican candidate for 2020" were created in a lab, the product would be someone like Matt Mowers.
Mowers is challenging first-term Democratic US Rep. Chris Pappas in New Hampshire's 1st Congressional District, where voters chose President Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election.
Mowers has endorsements from the president, from Donald Trump, Jr., from law enforcement groups and business lobbies, and from other key national Republican figures including former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, for whom Mowers worked.
But one thing Mowers does not have is a political resume specific to New Hampshire, where he appears to have relocated sometime within the past two years.
His Democratic opponents have alleged that he came with the specific intent to run for office, a labelled him a with the specific intent to run for office, a phenomenon referred to as "carpetbagging."
Using New Hampshire as a political launchpad is an established playbook
Mowers is only the latest — and one of two this cycle — to run for office in New Hampshire after making their political bones or their fortunes somewhere else.
For a number of reasons — demographics, loose eligibility requirements, and an enormous citizen legislature that makes it difficult to groom viable statewide candidates — New Hampshire has become a testing ground for Republicans with national profiles. They can set up shop there and try to win a seat in Congress.
"In New Hampshire specifically, it has been an increasingly common phenomenon on the Republican side in particular," said Andrew Smith, a UNH political science professor who also runs the UNH Survey Center.
Someone else will likely try the same move in the future regardless of whether Mowers or Senate candidate Corky Messner, formerly of Colorado, win on Tuesday.
(Democrats are trying to label Messner as an outsider, circulating a photo of him in Denver Broncos garb, a possible trigger for diehard New England Patriots fans.)
Though they've yet to reward such a relocation gambit with an Election Day victory, New Hampshire voters don't really seem to care. Pappas and Mowers are running a very close race, with one poll released late last week suggesting that they are tied.
"In New Hampshire, we have this stereotype of an old New England state, that you need to be here for four generations before you're considered to have ties to the state, which isn't actually true," said Christopher Galdieri, a professor of political science at St. Anselm College in Goffstown, New Hampshire.
Galdieri is author of "Stranger in a Strange State," a study of political carpetbagging — which is by no means strictly a New Hampshire phenomenon.
Hillary Clinton wasn't "from" New York before she represented the state in the Senate. And Mitt Romney, whose father was governor of Michigan, was governor of Massachusetts before he was elected to represent Utah in the Senate.
But, "there are things unique to New Hampshire political structure that make it easier for a candidate to come in from out of state and run," said Dante Scala, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire.
"Sometimes, I even think it's easier for someone to jump in from out of state."
Galdieri added: "I just think it gets more notice up here because it keeps happening."
Before Mowers and Messner, there was Scott Brown, the current US ambassador to New Zealand who, two years after losing his seat representing Massachusetts to Elizabeth Warren, narrowly lost a bid for Senate in New Hampshire in 2014.
That same year, former defense industry executive Walt Havenstein ran for governor — but he needed the state Ballot Law Commission to rule in a 3 to 2 vote that Havenstein owning property in Maryland, where he lived for work, and filing taxes there did not violate the state's requirement that candidates be domiciled in the state for seven years.
In Mowers' case, he could have lived in New Hampshire for seven minutes and still be eligible for office
Unlike governor and even state senator and representative, there is no length of time required to qualify a congressional candidate for office in New Hampshire. (And in NH, as elsewhere, one does not have to live in the congressional district they seek to represent.)
On his campaign website, Mowers claims that he and his wife, CNN producer Cassie Spodak, live in Bedford, New Hampshire. Bedford is where Mowers registered his consulting company in March 2019, public records show. (His personal LLC shares an address with a Bedford restaurant, T-Bones Great American Eatery, that just happened to be the location of his first campaign stop shortly after he announced his candidacy in January.)
That may be true — the letter of the law is vague and there is no prohibition on owning multiple homes — but the couple also owns a home in a gentrifying neighborhood of Washington, DC, according to real estate listings. And on her LinkedIn, Spodak lists DC as her location.
In an email exchange over the weekend, neither Mowers nor the campaign addressed the residency issue or the carpetbagging allegations.
Instead, Mowers's campaign derided Rep. Pappas's "undisclosed relationship with a Washington lobbyist" and the incumbent's "lack of standing with his constituents" before offering a bromide.
"Matt loves New Hampshire, where he has always considered home, and he will represent the Granite State with truth and transparency in Congress," said the statement from Mowers campaign manager John Corbett.
Unlike Mowers, Pappas very clearly built his political career in New Hampshire, working his way up from the state's 424-person legislature to the state executive council before running for Congress.
That's the traditional route — and something that Mowers's losing opponents in the September Republican primary did.
But the 'local' pedigree simply doesn't matter as much as it might have, in part because a significant number of New Hampshire voters are also from somewhere else.
Since 2000, as many as 30% of state voters turn over every eight years, either because they turned 18 or moved in from out of state, said UNH's Smith.
Outsider labels won't stick because many voters are relative "outsiders" themselves. And any tribalism that might compel an actual flinty New Englander to look askance at a relative newcomer is outweighed by partisanship.
"Voters can rationalize why it's okay for their party's guy to be from out of state but bad for the other party's guy," he said. "It's just part of the rationalization that voters do on a routine basis. 'He may be a skunk, but he's our skunk, and he's better than your skunk'-type of logic."
And in Matt Mowers, there is an object lesson: the formula works and would work in other states as well as New Hampshire if the candidate in question also checks the same anodyne boxes.
Mowers "is kind of like a Lego block: you could plug him into all sorts of districts with a minimal amount of involvement, and he'd be competitive," Scala said.
"He's got skills, he's raised money. He's kind of like a generic Republican candidate. That's just how things work these days."
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