Tight races across state in fight for House

Last modified: Thursday, November 06, 2014
Democrats staved off Republican challenges last night in all House districts representing Concord, including Penacook, where House majority leader Rep. Steve Shurtleff was facing a strong challenge from a 22-year-old recent college graduate.

Shurtleff, a Vietnam veteran and retired U.S. marshal, was running for his sixth term in the House. During the 2014 session, he also served as chairman of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee and worked on legislation ranging from domestic violence to driving privileges for first-time DWI offenders.

Shurtleff, who defeated Republican newcomer Ben Tasker, 829 to 674, plans to seek the speakership should the Democrats retain control in the House. It was unclear by press time which party would hold a majority in the House.

“I’m very happy to be re-elected by the people in Ward 1,” Shurtleff said. “I commend Ben Tasker on his race. He’s a young person, and I’m so glad to see younger people getting interested in the election process. I wish him well.”

Democrats held 213 of 400 total House seats heading into the election, with 14 vacancies. Shurtleff reported just before 11 p.m. that his party appeared to have lost about six seats and gained at least two. Other races were still too close to call.

“We’ll just have to see what the rest of the night brings,” he said.

Among the surprises in House races last night: five-time incumbent Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, a Manchester Republican, was unseated by GOP newcomer Mark McLean. McLean, a New Brunswick native and with a background in the manufacturing sector, squeaked past Vaillancourt by 89 votes.

Vaillancourt, who garnered headlines two years ago when he made a Nazi-era salute to then-Republican House Speaker Bill O’Brien, is serving his sixth term in Hillsborough County District 15. He drew national attention last month when he called U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster “ugly as sin” in a blog post about the importance of physical appearance in politics.

The state Republican Party immediately rejected the comment.

Vaillancourt did not return a request for comment last night.

In other Concord races, incumbent Democrats Dick Patten, Chris Rice and Paul Henle each pulled off decisive wins against their conservative challengers. Henle, a retired computer science specialist, was running for his second term in District 12, which includes Concord Ward 2.

“I’m pleased,” Henle said of the results. He noted that he had not been paying close attention to other House races last night. “I just got the results from the polling station, went home, opened a beer and put my feet up,” Henle said.

Hopkinton School Board Chairman Dave Luneau outpaced fellow newcomer George Langwasser to grab the third of three seats in District 10, which includes Hopkinton and Concord Ward 5. Luneau ran as an independent after losing a Democratic write-in campaign in the primary. He did not return requests for comment last night.

Luneau, 49, said he plans to stay in his role on the school board, and believes that will help him bring a fresh, grounded perspective to Concord.

Langwasser, 76, is the vice chairman of the Hopkinton Board of Selectman.

A 67-year resident of Hopkinton, he has also served on the school, planning and zoning boards. He said last night that he was unsure whether he would run again for the House. His current selectman term expires in March.

“My family has put up with an awful lot of meetings, late meals and planning,” Langwasser said. “So I really want to sit down and think things out.”

Democratic incumbents Mary Jane Wallner and Mel Myler took the remaining two seats in District 10.

The House could take up several key issues in the coming two years, including repeal of the death penalty, the Northern Pass project, expanded gambling, right-to-work legislation and increasing the minimum wage.

(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, jblackman@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)