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Governor wins two more years



Last modified: Wednesday, November 03, 2010
Gov. John Lynch won an unprecedented fourth two-year term as New Hampshire's chief executive, overcoming a national Republican wave and turning back his most serious electoral challenge since the Hopkinton Democrat was first elected in 2004.

With 85 percent of the vote counted last night, Lynch had 52 percent compared with 45 percent for Manchester Republican John Stephen, the state's former health and human services commissioner. Libertarian John Babiarz of Grafton had 2 percent.

"Together, we've made history again," Lynch told cheering supporters at his victory party in Manchester, "and I want to thank the people of New Hampshire for once again placing your trust in me. And I will not let you down."

Lynch's victory was a rare bright spot for New Hampshire Democrats last night as the party appeared on track to lose control of the state Legislature and Executive Council.

Lynch acknowledged the changed political landscape in his remarks last night. "I am committed to working with members of the next Legislature, regardless of party, to get results for the people of our great state," he said.

Stephen, in his concession speech, said his campaign's message was successful even if he was not.

"This election has sent a clear message that our citizens simply don't want more taxes. They don't want more spending and borrowing," Stephen told supporters in Manchester, according to the Associated Press.

When he begins his fourth two-year term in January, Lynch will become the state's longest-serving governor in nearly two centuries.

John Taylor Gilman was the last governor to serve longer than six years, serving 14 one-year terms as governor between 1794 and 1816. (The state switched to two-year terms in 1877.)

Lynch presides over a state that by many measures is doing better than the United States as a whole while the economy recovers from the worst recession since the Great Depression.

The state's unemployment rate in September was 5.5 percent, versus 9.6 percent nationally. The state budget this year posted a $70 million surplus, though Stephen challenged that figure in the campaign and analysts warn a deficit in the hundreds of millions of dollars looms in the next biennium.

And, as Lynch often reminded voters on the campaign trail this fall, New Hampshire ranks highly among the states on measures of safety and livability.

Dan Mabry, a 51-year-old airline pilot from Concord, said Lynch earned his vote and another term.

"I think he's done a good job so far. . . . Just his past record has shown he's not going to change the basic values we have here in New Hampshire," he said after voting at the West Street Ward House.

But Lydia Garneau, 70, of Manchester, voted against Lynch and other Democratic candidates. "I've known what (Stephen's) done in state government before, and I liked it," she said. "And also I think Lynch is very wishy-washy. Says one thing, does another."

Stephen, a former prosecutor, was the state's commissioner of health and human services from 2003 to 2007. He unsuccessfully ran for Congress in 2002 and 2008.

He easily won the Republican nomination in September over Dover businessman Jack Kimball and Cornerstone Policy Research founder Karen Testerman of Franklin. Stephen then gave Lynch the incumbent's most serious challenge since 2004, when Lynch unseated one-term Republican Gov. Craig Benson with 51 percent of the vote.

In 2006 and 2008, Lynch won landslides over his Republican opponents, with 70 percent in 2008 against Joe Kenney and 74 percent in 2006 against Jim Coburn.

During the campaign, Stephen accused Lynch of raising taxes and fees, increasing spending and hurting the state's businesses. He also attacked Lynch on public safety, citing parole-reform legislation signed by the governor that releases sex offenders, among other inmates, early from prison but subjects them to supervision. Lynch said the law will reduce recidivism by supervising inmates in the community instead of simply releasing them at the end of their terms.

The tension between Stephen and Lynch was clear in their debates as they clashed on issues from abortion to auditing and accused each other of lying to voters.

Lynch was also challenged by the political environment, which across the state and nation appeared to favor Republicans. Former attorney general Kelly Ayotte kept retiring Sen. Judd Gregg's seat in GOP hands, and Democratic Rep. Carol Shea-Porter lost her 1st District seat to former Manchester mayor Frank Guinta. Republican Charlie Bass beat Democrat Ann McLane Kuster in the 2nd District.

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