Van Ostern rules out rematch with Sununu in gubernatorial race

  • Former New Hampshire democratic gubernatorial candidate Colin Van Ostern listens during a stop at River Valley Community College in Claremont in 2016. Valley News file

  • Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Sununu (left) and Democratic challenger Colin Van Ostern participated in a televised debate at New England College in Henniker on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) ELIZABETH FRANTZ

For the Monitor
Thursday, February 15, 2018

Colin Van Ostern won’t be making a second straight bid to be New Hampshire’s governor.

“Spending another year campaigning full-time for governor just is not the right choice for me or my family – especially after doing so just last year,” the former executive councilor from Concord and 2016 Democratic gubernatorial nominee said in a statement Wednesday.

Van Ostern lost the November 2016 gubernatorial election to GOP nominee and fellow executive councilor Chris Sununu by slightly more than 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.

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 in 2017 helping fellow Democrats who were running for office. Last autumn he set up a political committee, NH Forward, to support state issues and candidates.

Granite State Democrats found success at the ballot box, taking eight out of 10 State House special elections and winning big in November’s municipal contests. In his statement, Van Ostern touted the elections of “new mayor Joyce Craig in Manchester to a new state senator in Kevin Cavanaugh to a new progressive Aldermanic council in Nashua.”

After the 2017 elections, Van Ostern told the Monitor he was seriously considering another bid for governor.

While his name won’t be on the ballot in 2018, Van Ostern pledged to remain active

“I will not be sitting on the sidelines this coming year,” he said in a statement on his Facebook page. “I will be working very hard in the public arena to help elect good people to public office who share that conviction.”

Beating Sununu this year wouldn’t have been easy. New Hampshire’s first Republican governor in a dozen years has enjoyed success getting his agenda passed in the GOP dominated state Legislature. And his approval rating stands at 61 percent in recent polling.

Then there’s tradition. Only one first-term New Hampshire governor in the last 90 years has lost re-election to a second two-year term. That was Republican Craig Benson, who lost his 2004 re-election to Democratic challenger John Lynch.

Former Portsmouth mayor and 2016 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Steve Marchand is the only major candidate to so far launch a campaign for the party’s nomination. Marchand jumped in late to the 2016 Democratic primary race, but this time around he announced his campaign extremely early, in April of last year.

Marchand told the Monitor that he spent a lot of time alongside Van Ostern on the 2016 campaign trail.

“I have great admiration for him, his work ethic and his values,” Marchand said of Van Ostern. “I am hopeful that he will remain deeply involved in New Hampshire civil life in 2018 and beyond. I have little doubt that he’ll stay involved because he loves New Hampshire.”

Marchand added that Van Ostern called him Tuesday night to share the news that he wouldn’t be running this year.

“I have tremendous respect for his classiness in reaching out to me. But I’m not surprised,” Marchand said of the call.

Former state senator Molly Kelly is seriously considering jumping into the race. Former deputy secretary of state and Bureau of Securities Regulation director Mark Connolly, who came in third to Van Ostern and Marchand in the 2016 primary, hasn’t ruled out another bid. Neither has state Sen. Dan Feltes of Concord and former congressman Paul Hodes, who represented the state’s 2nd District for two terms.

“Colin’s a terrific guy and a great public servant,” Hodes told the Monitor. “I certainly understand and respect Colin’s decision.”

Feltes agreed.

“While disappointed, I completely understand Colin’s decision and certainly appreciate his years of outstanding public service,” Feltes said.

Hodes, however, looked toward the future of this year’s gubernatorial race.

“I think we’ll see more entrants into the Democratic primary,” he said.