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Sununu, Van Ostern display different campaign styles during the final push for the governor’s chair

  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts speaks during a campaign canvass kick-off rally with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Colin Van Ostern in Concord with on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts speaks during a campaign canvass kick-off rally with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Colin Van Ostern in Concord with on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Democratic gubernatorial candidate Colin Van Ostern speaks during a campaign canvass kick-off rally in Concord with Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Elizabeth Warren on Saturday. Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor staff

  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts (right) joins Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Colin Van Ostern on a truck bed during a campaign canvass kick-off rally in Concord with on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Democratic gubernatorial candidate Colin Van Ostern speaks during a campaign canvass kick-off rally in Concord with Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Elizabeth Warren on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Democratic gubernatorial candidate Colin Van Ostern speaks during a campaign canvass kick-off rally in Concord with Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Elizabeth Warren on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts speaks during a campaign canvass kick-off rally with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Colin Van Ostern in Concord with on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts speaks during a campaign canvass kick-off rally with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Colin Van Ostern in Concord with on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Sununu watches the arm wrestling with fellow patrons Saturday afternoon at the Boston Billiard Club and Casino in Nashua. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Sununu greets friend and arm wrestling champion Cathy Merrill of Newport on Saturday afternoon at the Boston Billiard Club and Casino in Nashua. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Sununu greets friend and arm wrestling champion Cathy Merrill of Newport NH Saturday afternoon at the Boston Billiard Club and Casino in Nashua. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff



Monitor staff
Sunday, November 06, 2016

Bounding into the back of a red pickup truck with a microphone in hand, Democratic candidate for governor Colin Van Ostern surveyed an audience of more than 100 canvassers in Concord, bundled up in their winter coats with clipboards in hand.

“Are you fired up?” he said as the crowd cheered.

It was the third stop in a packed day of campaigning Saturday for Van Ostern, who was introducing Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen at the Concord event. Earlier in the day, he stood alongside Madeline Albright at a get-out-the vote in Nashua, joking that the former secretary of state had spoken at his college graduation.

Thirty-five miles away, Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Sununu and a few aides pulled up in front of the Boston Billiards Club in Nashua. Cheers were also coming from the venue, but they were for the New England Arm Wrestling Championships, rather than national politicians.

Sununu flashed a wide grin outside the bar, clearly excited for the day’s event.

“I’ve been a big arm wrestling fan all my life,” he told reporters, adding that he was there to see friends and professional arm wrestlers Cathy Merrill and Harry Bean compete.

“I’m here, not just to campaign but to support them,” Sununu said. “They’re representing the state with pride, and I love it.”

On the final weekend of an extremely close governor’s race, the campaigning style of Van Ostern and Sununu couldn’t have been more different.

While Van Ostern attended events with high-profile surrogates designed to rev up Democratic organizers, Sununu took a decidedly more relaxed tone, going to a slate of low-key stops at bars, road races and a Market Basket to greet voters.

The two men both serve on the Executive Council, which approves government contracts. Sununu comes from one of New Hampshire’s most prominent political families, while Van Ostern moved to the Granite State in 2001 to take a job as a political operative before moving on to the private sector.

Polls have shown an even match between the two since the race began, although Sununu has pulled ahead in recent days, according to the latest Real Clear Politics average.

At an earlier stop at the Hollis Transfer station, Van Ostern made a pitch to one voter who self-identified as a Republican.

The man wanted to know about Van Ostern’s stance on income tax (both he and Sununu oppose it) and what the candidate would do to bring more big businesses into the state.

Trying to talk over the deafening sound of people sorting their glass bottles in the recycling bins behind him, Van Ostern explained that he is a believer in commuter rail and wants to make expanded Medicaid permanent.

Later, as he spoke to the large and friendly crowd in Concord, Van Ostern seized on a week’s worth of controversial news for his opponent, including Sununu’s later-retracted claims about New Hampshire Democrats perpetrating voter fraud and the headlines his father and former governor John H. Sununu made at a Friday Donald Trump rally when he joked, “Do you think Bill (Clinton) was referring to Hillary when he said, ‘I did not have sex with that woman?’ ”

Van Ostern slammed his opponent, comparing him to the Republican candidate for president.

“He’s basically repeating Trump’s talking points, that’s how they get out their vote,” he said of Sununu.

Outside Boston Billiards, Sununu was setting a more optimistic tone.

“You see all this negative stuff on television, I put more stock into talking to people one on one, looking them in the eye, answering their questions the straight way and direct way every single time,” he said.

The scene inside the dimly lit bar was chaotic, as muscular men and women covered their hands with chalk and stepped up to compete at high tables.

In between matches, Sununu went around and shook hands with the arm wrestling audience, but spent just as much time watching the sport.

Merrill, a defending national champion from Newport who stands over 6 feet, enveloped her opponents in bear hugs each time after she beat them.

Merrill laughed as she recalled the time when she arm-wrestled Sununu at an Executive Council meeting last year. She was there receiving an award from the governor and council, and someone had the idea to put everyone’s names in a hat and draw one out for Merrill to arm wrestle.

She drew Sununu.

“I had just met Chris that day,” she said. “It couldn’t have been a more perfect person.”

Sununu joked that Merrill took it really easy on him. She laughed, nodding.

She said the Republican has her vote “500 percent” on Tuesday, adding Sununu has proposed the idea having Merrill at an arm-wrestling competition on the State House steps on Inauguration Day, if he wins.

(Ella Nilsen can be reached at 360-3322, enilsen@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @ella_nilsen.)