Lamontagne gets second GOP nod for governor

Last modified: Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Ovide Lamontagne's winding but resilient political career took another turn last night as he captured the Republican nomination for governor in dominating fashion, 16 years after he became the party's gubernatorial nominee, only to lose to Democrat Jeanne Shaheen.

In his fourth race in New Hampshire in two decades, Lamontagne, 54, will face off with former Democratic state senator Maggie Hassan over the next two months in hopes of becoming the first Republican to occupy the state's corner office since Craig Benson eight years ago.

"Please, savor the moment. Savor the moment - now it's over," Lamontagne told cheering supporters who packed a room inside the Grappone Conference Center in Concord. "Use it as a springboard to get us into the general election, which starts right here, right now, tonight."

With 81 percent of precincts reporting last night, Lamontagne, a lawyer at the Manchester firm Devine Millimet for 26 years, held a 68 percent to 30 percent lead over Kevin Smith of Litchfield. Manchester resident Bob Tarr, the other Republican in the race, had 2 percent of the vote.

Smith, 35, was elected to the New Hampshire House at the age of 19 and served one term before working in the offices of then-U.S. Sen. Bob Smith and Benson, and later for the state Division of Juvenile Justice Services. He was best known for his role as executive director of the conservative advocacy group Cornerstone Action from 2009 to 2011.

Lamontagne said he spoke on the phone with Smith before taking the stage just after 9:30 p.m. and congratulated him for running "a spirited campaign." He said Smith "readily, willingly" accepted the offer to join Lamontagne's team in the general election.

Lamontagne's rebirth in New Hampshire politics began when he mounted a late surge in 2010 against former state attorney general Kelly Ayotte in the Republican U.S. Senate primary, his first race since being trounced by Shaheen in the 1996 governor's race. Back then, he was best known as chairman of the state Board of Education, a position he had held for three years in the 1990s after unsuccessfully challenging incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Zeliff in 1992.

After years as the outside challenger, Lamontagne's swell of support in the U.S. Senate race, and decision not to seek a recount when Ayotte declared narrow victory, transformed him into a party favorite. The following spring, he was honored at a 500-person "Conservative of the Year" gala organized by the Tea Party-aligned group Americans for Prosperity that doubled as a summit for Republican presidential hopefuls and New Hampshire's first major political event of the primary cycle.

He began hosting the Republican presidential candidates at his home, an idea he says came from his wife, Bettie, but nonetheless led several publications to dub him a "kingmaker." Last September he announced his run for governor, accompanied by a steering committee of over 200 names from all corners of the state's Republican spectrum.

He is financially well-positioned for the fall campaign: Lamontagne raised more money - $1.2 million - than anyone else seeking state office, and a week ago reported still having a half-million dollars on hand. Hassan spent nearly all the $1 million she raised in her primary battle with former state senator Jackie Cilley, reporting just $34,000 left on Sept. 5.

In his speech last night, Lamontagne called his decisive victory a "loud, clear message" from New Hampshire voters. He accused Hassan of supporting a "government-sponsored takeover of our health care system," saying a proposal she authored while state senator - dubbed "MaggieCare" by Republicans - sought to "regulate health care like a utility." He said Hassan voted to increase state spending by double digits every year she was in office, resulting in an $800 million budget deficit.

"Fortunately, in 2010 we elected a fiscally conservative and responsible Republican majority in the Legislature, which had the courage to take this enormous debt on and deal with the Hassan-Cilley deficit," he said.

Incorporating a highly-publicized comment by President Obama, Lamontagne said Hassan is part of the "you-didn't-build-that team." Hassan, he said further, is part of the "we're-going-to-tax-that team," having served in a Legislature that created or raised 84 taxes and fees, he said.

On education, Lamontagne said he foresees a state where "parents are free to choose the best school for their children regardless of ZIP code." He said local control over schools can only be restored if a constitutional amendment is passed to reverse a New Hampshire Supreme Court decision requiring the state to fund an adequate education for students in all school districts, and instead allow lawmakers to target funding to needy communities.

In closing, Lamontagne asked his supporters "to be passionate but be civil," and "to stand strong and be ready."

"You and I both know that the negative campaigning or personal attacks will be starting tonight. Our opponents will start those negative attacks against us with false accusations about who I am and what you and I stand for," he said. "The special interests and the liberal bosses in Concord hear us coming, and they will do whatever they can to stop us. Let's work together so we can overcome these attacks and return needed conservative leadership to the governor's office."

(Matthew Spolar can be reached at 369-3309 or mspolar@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @mattspolar.)