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Molly Kelly officially launches Democratic bid for N.H. governor

  • Molly Kelly announced her candidacy Tuesday to be Democratic nominee for New Hampshire governor in 2018. BRYCE VICKMARK / Courtesy



For the Monitor
Tuesday, April 10, 2018

After a year of having the Democratic gubernatorial nomination race to himself, former Portsmouth Mayor Steve Marchand now has company.

Democrat Molly Kelly officially jumped into the race for governor early Tuesday.

Vowing to “build a New Hampshire that works for everyone,” the former five-term state senator out of Keene announced her campaign in a video that focused on workforce development and education.

“Our young people are leaving New Hampshire because they can’t find work,” Kelly said. “I’m running for governor because I think our young people should be able to find good jobs here. Our small businesses should be able to find the workers they need here.”

She criticized first-term Republican Gov. Chris Sununu.

“New Hampshire’s funding for workforce training has been cut,” Kelly said. “Meanwhile, the richest 3 percent of corporations received tax breaks of over a hundred million dollars.”

Kelly said her campaign will be “powered by the people of New Hampshire,” and she will refuse contributions from corporate political action committees.

“We’ve got to get the dark money out of our politics,” Kelly said in her video. “Wealthy corporations already have their governor. It’s time everyone else had a governor who works for them every day.”

Kelly’s entry into the Democratic gubernatorial race was no surprise. The 68-year-old community organizing consultant who lives in Harrisville has been mulling a bid for at least a couple of months and formed an exploratory committee in late February.

She enters the race as the perceived Democratic establishment favorite. Former New Hampshire House speaker Terie Norelli, former Attorney General Joe Foster, and Democratic National Committee member and former state party chairwoman Kathy Sullivan were key members of Kelly’s exploratory committee, which also included other longtime party activists. A number of Democratic state lawmakers are expected to back her bid.

Kelly also received strong encouragement to run from EMILY’S List, the national organization that helps elect Democratic female candidates who support abortion rights.

Kelly now joins Marchand, who’s making his second straight bid for the corner office. Marchand jumped in late in the 2016 race for the Democratic nomination, but ended up finishing a distant second to nominee Colin Van Ostern. This time around, he announced extremely early, launching his candidacy April 3 of last year.

Marchand, who’s championing a progressive agenda as he runs as an outsider, has crisscrossed the state over the past year, greeting voters at more than 200 house parties and local and county events, and building up a staff and fundraising.

He said he never expected to have the race all to himself and quickly targeted Kelly over a comment she made during an interview with WMUR in early March, which was her only media interview in recent months.

Kelly said her opposition to the president would not prevent her from working with the White House to advocate for New Hampshire, explaining that “in sitting in the governor’s seat, I would certainly work with the Trump administration to bring benefit to this state.”

Marchand said the job of Democrats is to “resist Donald Trump.”

“As she talks to Democratic voters for the first time, Molly will have to explain why almost 27,000 identified supporters so far are wrong about me ... and why she’s right about Donald Trump,” he said.

The winner of this September’s Democratic primary will face off in November against Sununu, the state’s first GOP governor in a dozen years. Defeating Sununu in the general election won’t be easy, as he’s seen much of his agenda passed by the GOP-dominated state Legislature and for months has enjoyed strong approval ratings in public opinion polling.

And he has history on his side. Only one governor in the past nine decades has failed to win re-election to a second two-year term. That dubious honor goes to Republican Gov. Craig Benson, who was defeated by Democratic challenger John Lynch in 2004.

But state Democrats are energized, thanks to a string of special legislative election victories over the past year and big wins in last November’s municipal contests. They take every opportunity possible to tie Sununu to President Donald Trump, and they believe that the governor can be toppled thanks in part to what they believe is a massive blue wave coming this November, and because his positions on gun legislation, voter eligibility, and business taxes will mobilize Democrats.

While state GOP Chairwoman Jeanie Forrester praised Sununu, the Republican Governors Association targeted Kelly.

“Molly Kelly has an established reputation as a tax hiker whose policies would leave the Granite State less prosperous and less competitive economically. With New Hampshire finally headed on the right track under Governor Chris Sununu, Kelly would only take the state backwards if elected,” RGA spokesman John Burke said in a statement.

Republicans pointed to a comment she made a decade ago, when she told the Keene Sentinel that she would not pledge to vote against an income or sales tax, saying that “everything is on the table.” They also highlighted that she and three other state senators in 2012 opposed asking voters if the state Constitution should have been amended to permanently prohibit an income tax. And they also spotlighted her 2014 vote in favor of raising the state’s gasoline tax.

Kelly, a Midwest native, has lived in the Keene area for more than three decades. She’s married and has four children and seven grandchildren. Kelly is a graduate of Keene State College and the Franklin Pierce Law Center, which is now the University of New Hampshire School of Law.