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Blanchard beats Hager easily in Merrimack County Commission race

Liz Blanchard

(Alexander Cohn/ Monitor Staff)

Liz Blanchard (Alexander Cohn/ Monitor Staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

Incumbent Liz Blanchard, a Democrat from Penacook, easily regained her seat on the Merrimack County Commission last night, beating Concord Republican Liz Hager in District 1 by 2,300 votes.

Blanchard was given two more years on the three-member commission, after her initial four-year term. Term lengths on the commission are staggered.

But final results had not been reported by press time in the District 3 race between incumbent Peter Spaulding, a Republican from Hopkinton, and Bow Democrat Bill Cohen. Among the 12 towns in the district, just two had reported results by 11:15 p.m., with Spaulding winning both New London, 1,451-1,213, and Newbury, 724-489, for a 473-vote lead.

In District 1, which comprises Boscawen, Concord and Webster, Blanchard finished on top, 11,565-9,265.

Blanchard said last night she was surprised by her margin of victory, given Hager’s background. Hager was elected Concord’s first female mayor in 1988, served for nearly a decade on the city council, was a 13-term state representative and ran for governor in 1992.

“I was very happy, and I took away a bigger lead than I could have hoped for,” Blanchard said last night, speaking by phone from Concord City Hall. “I was a little concerned because she has such name recognition.”

Blanchard said Hager’s lack of visibility may have hurt her chances. “She didn’t really campaign,” Blanchard said. “She had only a few signs around in the district.”

Blanchard added that voter turnout in Boscawen, where she won by 114 votes, also factored in, saying, “Boscawen is a Republican town, and the Democrats walked away with it. The Democrats were out in droves, and I think that had more to do with it than Liz not campaigning.”

The Merrimack County government oversees the jail and nursing home, both of which are located in Boscawen, plus the county prosecutor’s office and the sheriff’s department. Its current budget, $74.8 million, was approved by the county delegation – the 44 members of the House from Merrimack County – whose cost-cutting ideas were sometimes deemed too heavy-handed by Blanchard and Spaulding.

The District 3 race was a rematch from two years ago, when Spaulding received two-thirds of the vote. Going into last night’s race, Cohen hoped his penchant for detail, aided by his background in financial management, business analysis and real estate management, would appeal to voters.

But Cohen knew he was fighting an uphill battle against an opponent with a resume that reached back 42 years, to Spaulding’s first election to the county commission, a post he held for 22 years.

Spaulding was also a delegate to the Republican National Convention three times, chaired the state’s delegation in 2000 and the presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain that same year. He’s also served on the state’s Executive Council.

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)

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