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Maggie Hassan defeats Republican Ovide Lamontagne in N.H. governor's race

Maggie Hassan delivers her victory speech at the Puritan Backroom in Manchester on Tuesday, November 6, 2012. Hassan defeated Republican candidate Ovide Lamontagne in the race to be New Hampshire's next governor. 

(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

Maggie Hassan delivers her victory speech at the Puritan Backroom in Manchester on Tuesday, November 6, 2012. Hassan defeated Republican candidate Ovide Lamontagne in the race to be New Hampshire's next governor. (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

Maggie Hassan will become the 81st governor of New Hampshire after defeating Republican Ovide Lamontagne yesterday, keeping the corner office in Democratic hands as Gov. John Lynch steps down after an unprecedented four terms.

With 49 percent of the vote counted last night, Hassan, of Exeter, had 54 percent, to 43 percent for Lamontagne, of Manchester. Libertarian John Babiarz of Grafton trailed with 3 percent.

The Associated Press called the race for Hassan about 9 p.m., and Lamontagne called Hassan to concede about an hour and a half later.

At the Puritan Backroom in Manchester last night, Hassan thanked an exultant crowd and the people of New Hampshire for the trust they had placed in her.

“I will not let you down,” she said to cheers and applause. “I will work as hard as I can every day to serve you and to build a stronger, more innovative New Hampshire, where our businesses can grow, flourish and create great jobs for our people.”

Hassan, a former three-term state senator, is the second woman to be elected governor of the Granite State, after fellow Democrat and now U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, who in 1996 won the first of three terms. Come January, Hassan will be the country’s only Democratic female governor.

For Lamontagne, a former chairman of the state Board of Education, last night saw his fourth failed attempt for elected office. The business attorney lost bids for Congress in 1992, governor (against Shaheen) in 1996 and the U.S. Senate in 2010.

“It looks like tonight is not going to be our night, based on the numbers that we’re seeing right now,” Lamontagne told the crowd at his election-night party at Manchester’s Executive Court. “And I’m disappointed in that, obviously. I’m disappointed in the way this night ended, after the weeks of those negative attack ads distorting you and me.”

He added, “New Hampshire’s a better state than that, and New Hampshire needs to be a better state than that going forward.”

Yesterday’s vote concluded a two-month general election campaign that saw 12 debates and both candidates battered by millions of dollars’ worth of television attack ads, most by outside groups including the Democratic Governors Association and Republican Governors Association.

Both Lamontagne and Hassan kept up a frantic pace yesterday, with each candidate visiting about a dozen polling places across southern New Hampshire and the Seacoast before settling in for dueling election-night parties in Manchester.

In a number of communities across the state, Lamontagne under-performed other Republicans on the ballot, including presidential nominee Mitt Romney. For example, in the town of Barnstead, Romney beat President Obama, 1,254 votes to 1,125, but Hassan topped Lamontagne, with 1,198 votes to his 1,120. Romney won Belmont with 1,816 votes to 1,782 for Obama, but Hassan collected 1,888 votes to Lamontagne’s 1,606.

Lynch, a Hopkinton businessman, is set to leave office as the longest-serving governor in modern history, having won four two-year terms. (John Taylor Gilman served 14 one-year terms as governor in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, before the state switched to two-year terms.)

The popular Lynch endorsed Hassan as his successor last month.

Last night, Hassan thanked Lamontagne for his public service, and said that, based on early returns, the next Legislature “will be nearly evenly divided” between Republicans and Democrats.

“We should see this not as an obstacle, but as an opportunity to move beyond the partisan divide,” Hassan said.

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or bleubsdorf@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)

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