CONWAY — The field in the 1st Congressional District race got a little bit smaller on Thursday when former state Sen. Mark Hounsell (R-Conway) announced he was withdrawing from the race. The current Carroll County commissioner and Conway School Board member said he didn’t see a path for his candidacy to financially stay in the chase for the GOP nomination.
"For the past three months I gave this effort my best shot," Hounsell, 65, stated on Thursday morning. "The bottom line is I am not willing to do what is expected to raise the money to be competitive and the people who support me are not doing so with sufficient contributions. The reality of the situation regarding me going to Washington D.C. to represent the people of my home state in the House of Representatives is best expressed this way, ‘I can’t get there from here.'"
Hounsell said he "did the best I could for as long as I could. My campaign war chest is empty." He had hoped to run "a true grassroots" campaign with minor donations from multiple people.
"In January when I announced that I was a running for Congress," he said, "I stated that I would run my campaign as long as I was a viable candidate, and that included having a campaign that is financially viable as well. I am no longer a viable candidate in that I am not financially viable. I could be if I was willing to do what is required in this day and age to run as a candidate for the United States Congress. That being to raise money from partisan sources and special interests who expect things in return. I am not willing to raise money that way.”
Hounsell said he received plenty of verbal support, but money never came with it.
“It is a disappointment to me that a significant number of individuals who encouraged me to become a candidate and who offered their support have not contributed any money towards my campaign,” he said. “Although I have no resentment towards them it reminds me of what the English cleric, John Wesley might have meant as he is quoted as saying, ‘When you set yourself on fire people love to come and see you burn.’ By my measure, from those who encouraged me too many are eager to stand on the sidelines and cheer, but not willing to participate with real and needed financial support. There were many people who said they would support me with $10 and $20 donations but I never got them. If I had to go to a meeting tomorrow (as a candidate) I’d have to go into my wife’s grocery money to get there. I don’t have any support. (Laughing) People stayed away by the thousands. I don’t think I had 12 people in total support me.”
Hounsell was one of four Republicans vying for the GOP nomination along with former Hampton Police Chief Eddie Edwards of Dover; perennial candidate Andy Martin of Manchester; and state Sen. Andy Sanborn of Bedford.
Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-Rochester), who currently holds the 1st Congressional District seat, announced last October she would not seek re-election.
A field of eight Democrats has filed for the nomination, with Executive Councilor Chris Pappas of Manchester as the front-runner.
Also running are: businessman Rep. Mark MacKenzie of Manchester; Deaglan McEachern of Portsmouth; Rep. Mindi Messmer of Rye; Rochester city attorney Terence O’Rourke; Levi Sanders, son of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont; former Strafford County Attorney Lincoln Soldati of Portsmouth; and former Marine Captain Maura Sullivan of Portsmouth.
The primary is Sept. 11.
Hounsell is not supporting anyone at this time.
“What is alarming is that despite the appeals of NH GOP Chairman Jeanie Forrester to make New Hampshire Red Again the factionalized Republican Party in this state is hog tied by right-wing extremists, passing as conservatives,” he said. “As a result, many unaffiliated independent moderate voters have no reason to feel needed or welcomed to vote Republican this November for 1st Congressional District. There currently is no candidate for Congress who emulates our successful Governor (Chris) Sununu in his genuine moderation from his honest conservative character. That is a real problem for the GOP.
“If a moderate Republican candidate does not rise up the seat will remain in the hands of the Democrats and their victory will result in a tougher race for Governor Sununu then is necessary,” Hounsell continued. “In addition, without the right Republican candidate for Congress, who is willing and capable of putting forth an assertive and inclusive campaign, it is probable that both the N.H. House as well as the N.H. Senate will not have a Republican majority in January of 2019.”
Asked if there was a highlight to his campaign, Hounsell quickly replied, “No.”
“If anything,” he said, “it was a real eye-opener. I can now say the last thread of my naivety is gone. I found out that if you don’t have money you can’t run. I found that none of the other candidates wants to talk about the issues. I had 19 issues I wanted to talk about on Day 1 and there haven’t been 19 seconds of discussion about any of them — it’s all about (the other candidates) working to raise money.”
Having made the decision to withdraw, Hounsell said, “a huge weight has been lifted. I can be myself and more real again. I don’t have to be guarded.”
Hounsell said he still has a passion for politics.
“The fire that remains in me is the continuation of America and the sovereignty of New Hampshire,” he said. “I am not willing to quench that fire. At the same time if people do not put their money behind their words then a true blue people’s candidate, such as myself, cannot compete. I have to tell you, I would have been an outstanding congressman. People would have seen constituent service like they’ve never seen before.”