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Abbott's Courtship Dovetails with Politics in New Hampshire

Gov. Greg Abbott's appeals to New Hampshire business are proving mutually beneficial for him and Granite State Republicans. As Abbott seeks the jobs-snatching mantle of his predecessor, New Hampshire's state GOP gets new ammunition against a Democratic governor.

Gov. Greg Abbott spoke during the grand opening of the Texas Public Policy Foundation's new building on April 21, 2015.

Exclusives for WMUR. An op-ed in the Union Leader. Interviews on the Manchester airwaves. 

Texans keeping tabs on Gov. Greg Abbott's post-session moves would be forgiven for thinking their governor is waging a media offensive like the White House hopefuls flocking to early-voting New Hampshire this summer. Abbott's ambitions are a bit different — snatching jobs away from the Granite State — but they nonetheless pack a political punch that has proven mutually beneficial for both him and New Hampshire Republicans. 

That's because Abbott's job hunt not only lets him seize the economic development mantle of his predecessor, it also emboldens a Granite State GOP with its sights set on Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan ahead of a potential U.S. Senate run in 2016. Hassan has not yet decided whether to challenge Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte, but that has not stopped GOP forces from working to knock her down a peg or two, most recently over her veto of a state budget that included business tax cuts. 

Those forces, ranging from the state GOP to wealthy outside groups, have not hesitated to argue that Abbott's recent overtures to New Hampshire companies is proving them right.

"Unfortunately, this is something that New Hampshire Republicans in the Legislature warned about," said Ryan Williams, senior adviser to the Granite State GOP. "If New Hampshire doesn't make an effort to make itself more competitive, other states may try to steal our jobs."

Just two hours after Abbott issued a statement last month inviting New Hampshire businesses to relocate to Texas, the Granite State Republican Party sought to capitalize on his appeal. In her own statement, state GOP Chairwoman Jennifer Horn lamented that Abbott's invitation was "unfortunate but predictable" and blamed Hassan's veto for out-of-state governors eyeing New Hampshire jobs.

Since then, Abbott has not let up on his push to snatch jobs. He has dialed in to Granite State radio shows, written an op-ed for the state's largest newspaper and reportedly sent letters to New Hampshire executives, specifically using Hassan's veto to tout Texas' 25 percent cut to its business franchise tax. 

Amid the media blitz, it has not gone unnoticed that Abbott's top adviser — and the engineer of his landslide victory last year — is Dave Carney, a New Hampshire-based GOP strategist who also worked with former Gov. Rick Perry. Carney also serves as the top operative in New Hampshire for Commitments Kept N.H., a multimillion project of a conservative super PAC geared toward getting a head start on Ayotte's re-election. 

Since May, the super PAC, the Ending Spending Action Fund, has disclosed paying tens of thousands of dollars to Norway Hill Associates, the Hancock, N.H.-based firm led by Carney, who has previously worked for the fund. Federal Election Commission records list the firm's work as "direct voter contact" and "research" in support of Ayotte. 

Carney has "certainly been the go-between between Texas and New Hampshire in the past," said Dante Scala, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire. Asked about the Granite State GOP's efforts to use Abbott against Hassan, Scala responded with a healthy dose of sarcasm. 

"I'm absolutely shocked," he said. "It all kind of neatly fits together."

Abbott's office and Carney did not return calls for this story, but the connections are anything but secret in New Hampshire, where Republicans  are holding up Abbott's pitch as a prime example that Hassan's policies are not working. Democrats, meanwhile, are eager to cut through the bluster and connect the dots.

"It's disgusting that a political operative from New Hampshire would actively work against New Hampshire's economy in a cheap attempt to score political points," Aaron Jacobs, a spokesman for the New Hampshire Democratic Party, said in a statement.

Granite State Democrats were particularly peeved when the GOP leaders of the New Hampshire legislature promoted Abbott's pitch on social media, creating the appearance they were cheerleading the exit of businesses from their own state. Williams rejected the idea that Granite Staters of any party want to see jobs leave, saying Republicans specifically "want to do everything possible to stop Gov. Abbott from making any inroads into New Hampshire." 

Colin Van Ostern, a member of the state's executive council, has been among the more vocal Granite State Democrats pushing back on Abbott's appeals, penning a number of op-eds for Texas newspapers titled "Don't mess with the Live Free or Die state." On Twitter, Carney has accused Van Ostern of having a "lame tantrum" over Abbott's jobs hunt.

“There’s no question this is about politics first for him and business second," Van Ostern told The Texas Tribune earlier this month. “It’s pretty transparent what the real point here is."

“Why the governor of a state 25 times our size 2,000 miles away would focus on this issue is a question that can only be answered by politics," Van Ostern added.

Like his predecessor's out-of-state jaunts, Abbott's trips effectively serve two purposes, letting him promote Texas' business climate in his official capacity, and less formally, allowing him to develop a national image that could pay off politically. 

Abbott began his jobs-poaching travel in earnest Monday with a two-day trip to New York, where he was scheduled to meet with business leaders, tour the New York Stock Exchange and get some face time with Fox News hosts. Abbott's office will not say whether the Granite State is also on his itinerary, but in a New Hampshire radio interview earlier this month, he hinted he could be in the mix of White House hopefuls heading to the early-voting state.

"I think I'm the only person in the United States not running for president," Abbott said, "although I would be happy to visit New Hampshire this time of the year." 

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