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Marchand mostly under-the-radar in run for N.H. governor

  • Former Portsmouth mayor Steve Marchand participated in a gubernatorial forum on young children at New Hampshire Institute of Politics in Goffstown in August 2016. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor file

  • Democratic candidate for governor of New Hampshire Steve Marchand sits with the “Monitor” editorial board in August 2016. Monitor file



For the Monitor
Sunday, December 10, 2017

Steve Marchand is putting in the long hours as he runs for governor.

“If you’re going to take on and defeat a first-term incumbent, particularly with a famous last name like Sununu, you’re going to have to outwork not just the typical candidate,” Marchand said in an interview with the Monitor. “You’re going to have to be the hardest-working candidate in recent history.”

The former Portsmouth mayor and 2016 Democratic gubernatorial candidate spoke with the Monitor on Friday, moments before greeting party activists at a local holiday house party in Derry. Earlier in the day, Marchand held one-on-one meetings in Concord before heading up to Laconia to talk with local leaders. Marchand said he had one more stop to make that night – a Democratic house party in Rye.

He described that day’s itinerary as business as usual.

“The work we’ve done is the ultimate in grassroots,” Marchand said. “My attitude is if people expect John McCain or Barack Obama to come to your living room before you’re going to commit to them, then who the heck am I? We’re running for governor. You should earn it in that kind of way.”

One thing his campaign has not received is much media attention. But Marchand said he’s fine with the lack of coverage right now.

“It was never anticipated to be something that would be big and sexy the year and a half before the election. You do the work now and we’re seeing the fruit of that labor already,” he said.

Marchand jumped in late in the 2016 race for the Democratic nomination, but ended up finishing a surprise (but distant) second to nominee Colin Van Ostern. This time around, he announced extremely early, launching his candidacy April 3.

Marchand explained that starting his campaign early was crucial to building grassroots support and fundraising.

“We’ve done about 145 meet and greet-style events this year, and early 2018 is looking every bit as busy as 2017 has been. And it’s paid off,” Marchand said. “We’ve got tremendous political support. Our fundraising is like a snowball that gets bigger with a big wide base. It’s a strategy that we’ve been doing for eight months now, and I feel really good about how it’s working.”

According to his latest financial filing, Marchand’s campaign raised $116,348 and spent $92,762 since launching, leaving more than $23,000 cash on hand. That’s a big jump from his brief 2016 campaign, when Marchand raised less than $30,000.

“We had 499 different people who gave us $25 or less,” he said. “Almost 100 percent of them from in state. And many of them have given many times now.”

Given his war chest and the feedback he’s gotten on the campaign trail so far, Marchand expressed confidence.

“We’ve got the right message. We’ve got the right work ethic. We’re going to have the money and we’ve taken advantage of the extra time,” he said. “So I feel very good at where we’re at right now.”

He said the money raised has allowed him to hire a staff of four people.

But Marchand may not have the Democratic field to himself much longer. Both Van Ostern and two-term state Sen. Dan Feltes of Concord have said they’re seriously considering 2018 bids.

When asked about the potential competition, Marchand said, “You’ve got to act like you’re behind no matter what the situation.”

A onetime state director for the centrist No Labels organization, Marchand ran as a progressive outsider in the 2016 gubernatorial primary. And he was the only one of the three major candidates to vocally back Bernie Sanders’s White House bid.

Marchand advocated legalizing and taxing marijuana during his first run for governor, as well as raising the state’s gas tax to pay for infrastructure improvements.

A recent push by a majority of the Executive Council to increase the tolls on New Hampshire’s highways could put a damper on his gas tax plan, however.

“I don’t like paying for tolls,” he said. “But I’ll tell you what I like even less: having roads that damage cars and keep our infrastructure behind where it needs to be.”

“So I have proposed in the past a couple of cents additional gas tax,” he said. “But you can’t do both of them. And so if you’re going to have toll increase, then I would no longer propose any increase in the gas tax, because I think that would be a burden on those who drive in New Hampshire.”

Marchand took aim at Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, who opposes the toll increase but respects the Executive Council’s authority to vote on raising the tolls. The governor controls the council’s agenda and could essentially prevent the toll hike by not putting it on the agenda.

“Chris Sununu is definitely trying to have it both ways on the toll,” Marchand said. “He wants to sound like he’s against it but when he actually has the authority to prevent it from happening, he is trying to find a way to have it both ways again.”

“Chris is trying to placate a small part of the right wing of his base with some of his appointments, with some of his declarations in favor of Donald Trump,” he continued. “And then near the end when he sees they’re wildly unpopular, in the case of the health care reform, this tax reform and other things, he backs off a little bit.”

Marchand also criticized Sununu’s decision to make New Hampshire the first state to opt out of the nationwide public safety communications system known as FirstNet, which was built by AT&T.

Sununu said Thursday that New Hampshire will hire a company called Rivada for a similar service, a deal the governor said would allow the state to have more control over its communication system, which Marchand said was another example of the governor speaking out of both sides of his mouth.

“On this one, I think he’s doing the exact same thing,” he said “He wants to sound like he’s against it, but when he actually has the authority to prevent it from happening, he is trying to find a way to have it both ways again.”

“(Sununu) just took on a lot of risk in a way no other state so far has,” he added.