Van Ostern considering another bid for governor in 2018

  • Colin Van Ostern sits down for an interview in Concord on Monday. Paul Steinhauser/ For the Monitor

For the Monitor
Monday, November 13, 2017

With the 2017 elections now in the rearview mirror, 2016 Democratic gubernatorial nominee Colin Van Ostern says he’s thinking about whether to run again.

The former executive councilor and Concord resident said the wave of victories last week by Democrats in New Hampshire and across the country “certainly provides some momentum for those of us who think we need change in 2018.”

“I’m certainly going to think about whether to run again in 2018, or whether to help other candidates, as I have done in 2017,” Van Ostern said Monday in an interview with the Monitor. “I’m going to think seriously about what it will take in order to win in 2018 if I choose to run.”

Van Ostern lost last November to GOP nominee and fellow executive councilor Chris Sununu by about 16,000 votes – 48.8 percent to 46.6 percent. It was the narrowest loss by any Democratic gubernatorial candidate across the country in the 2016 contests.

“I was proud of how close we came,” Van Ostern said of the results.

Following the election, Van Ostern returned to work at Southern New Hampshire University as vice president of workforce solutions, where, he said, he’s working on ways to attract and retain new workers in the Granite State.

Van Ostern also spent a lot of time this year helping fellow Democrats who were running for office.

“There’s been some great fall elections in New Hampshire. Joyce Craig was just elected mayor here in Manchester where I work. Some new aldermen like Shoshanna Kelly in Nashua. I was really happy to help first-time candidates for school board in Concord,” he said.

“Thousands of people helped me last year when I ran for governor,” he added. “We came very, very close. One of the ways I can pay it forward is helping other great leaders who are fighting for the same values.”

Van Ostern said last week’s election results show that people want change.

“There’s no question to me, people want change,” he said. “Our country is going sideways, and often it’s our local leaders and our state leaders who can actually stand up for people against that – put people over politics.”

A few days ago, Van Ostern came under attack by the Republican Governor’s Association, which sent an email to supporters with the headline “After New Hampshire Voters Rejected Him, Failed Candidate Colin Van Ostern Considering Another Run.”

The RGA email was sparked by a report last week that Van Ostern had recently set up a political committee, “NH Forward,” to support state issues and candidates.

But Van Ostern said that committee was actually set up back in September.

“I’ve been spending increasing time helping candidates for office in 2017. And that committee’s for 2017 and 2018. I can appreciate that folks are more focused on it now that the 2017 elections are done. But I’ve been excited to spend a lot of time and energy helping all those who were working as hard as they were the last few months,” he said.

But the same political committee could be used by Van Ostern to raise money and organize another run for governor.

Van Ostern said he doesn’t have a timetable when it comes to making a decision on whether to run.

“I’m spending time hearing from and listening to my neighbors and fellow citizens and other leaders around the state,” he said. “And I know that a lot of us share the importance and the value of willingness to challenge the status quo, especially when there are issues that we haven’t solved that we need to take on and solve. So I’ll be working with them and others in trying to figure out how to best do that, and I’ll be looking seriously at it in the months ahead.”

Former Portsmouth mayor and 2016 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Steve Marchand is the only major name to so far launch a campaign. Van Ostern, thanks to the name recognition he gained in last year’s election and to his proven ability in 2016 to fundraise, has the luxury of waiting until early next year before deciding whether to run.

Beating Sununu next November won’t be easy.

Only one first-term New Hampshire governor in the last 90 years has lost re-election to a second two-year term. Those honors go to Craig Benson in 2004.

Sununu enjoyed success in this year’s State House legislative session, and he currently enjoys an approval rating that’s hovering around 60 percent in public opinion polls.

Asked about Sununu, Van Ostern said, “I appreciate and respect his family’s history and public service in this state.”

But he also took aim at his former and possibly future gubernatorial opponent, as well as the recent tax legislation by congressional Republicans.

“The most recent tax proposal out of Washington actually raises taxes on student debt, raises taxes on employers who are helping working adults pay for going back to school. And our governor supports that,” Van Ostern said. “That is wrong. That is spitting in the face of one of the biggest challenges our state is facing, which is the workforce development challenges. And we need to be standing up to Washington, not just going along with the political winds.”

In addition to the workforce, Van Ostern also repeatedly emphasized the state’s drug epidemic.

“It’s important we stay focused on how we can make progress on the issues that matter, on winning the opioid crisis, on solving workforce development challenges,” he said.

Van Ostern maintained the rhetoric of a once and possibly future candidate.

“We have these harebrained ideas for kicking people off health care, raising premiums. Lately trying to raise taxes on many middle-class families,” he said. “We need leaders who will be fearless in standing up to those. That’s what I did when I served as an executive councilor. That’s what I’m going to keep doing.”

Van Ostern also highlighted his time away from politics over the past year, noting that his job at SNHU “is also incredibly important and rewarding work.”

“Politics is not the only thing that goes on in life, and I think it’s healthy, frankly, to spend more time outside of it than inside of it sometimes,” he said. “Elections last long enough, and I think if we can make progress on the issues our state is facing outside of politics as well as inside, I think that’s a good thing for all of us.”