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GOP poised to sweep Legislature, Executive Council, in boon to Sununu's third term

  • Steve Diorio, the Chair of the Hinsdale, N.H., Select Board, dumps out nearly 1900 ballots onto a table to be hand-counted at the Hinsdale Middle High School Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020 in Hinsdale, N.H. (Kristopher Radder/The Brattleboro Reformer via AP) Kristopher Radder; Brattleboro Reformer

Monitor staff
Published: 11/4/2020 6:20:00 PM
Modified: 11/4/2020 6:19:49 PM

New Hampshire Republicans were poised Wednesday to take back majorities in the state House, Senate and Executive Council, a sweep that would bolster Gov. Chris Sununu’s third term and carry major implications for the state’s 2021 redistricting process.

With official results still being counted and certified by the Secretary of State’s Office, and with calls in crucial races by the Associated Press still outstanding, the exact numbers are still not confirmed as of noon Wednesday.

Yet Republican Senate candidates in several races claimed victory Tuesday night based on their campaign’s own numbers, and the Republican House leader said Wednesday that his party had secured enough seats to flip the New Hampshire House.

The combined capture of the House and Senate would be a major boost to Sununu’s third term. It would allow him to craft the budget he wants, including passing additional tax cuts. It would let him steer his own legislative priorities, after vetoing vast swathes of Democratic bills in recent years.

And it would give Republicans an edge in the 2021 redistricting effort: the once-in-a-decade redrawing of state districts after the conclusion of the 2020 Census, which could have implications for both parties through to 2030.

The declaration of victory was part of a series of blows for the state Democratic Party, which lost crucial ground in state elections Tuesday night across the map.

In the state senate, the night told a tale of rematches, and vindication.

Presently, Democrats control the Senate 14-10, a majority they captured in 2018 during a wave election.

But three Republican senators that were ousted two years ago – all in the state’s southern or southeastern area – managed on Tuesday to topple the same senators who had kicked them out in 2018.

On Tuesday evening, former Republican senator Bill Gannon said that he had beaten incumbent Sen. Jon Morgan, and former senator Gary Daniels said he had won his race against Democratic Sen. Shannon Chandley.

Morgan conceded the race to Gannon around 11 p.m.

Those two Republican victories would knock the Democrats’ Senate majority to a 12-12 split.

Meanwhile, in Nashua, former Republican senator Kevin Avard held a narrow 51.56% lead over incumbent Sen. Melanie Levesque, according to Associated Press returns, with 89% of precincts reporting as of 10 a.m., though neither candidate had called the race.

That win for Avard, another senator ousted in 2018, would put Republicans in control of the Senate 13-11.

And in District 9, which spans from Richmond in the southwest to Peterborough to Bedford, incumbent Democratic Sen. Jeanne Dietsch was just behind challenger Denise Ricciardi, a new candidate, by 412 votes with nearly all counted. A pickup there would give Republicans a 14-10 Senate.

The results in the New Hampshire House were equally strong for New Hampshire Republicans. Rep. Dick Hinch, the Merrimack Republican who served as House Republican leader in the minority since 2018, told WMUR Wednesday that the 400-member House had flipped enough districts to get to a 203-176 Republican advantage, with 21 races left to confirm.

And in the Executive Council – the five-member body that approves or rejects contracts of the state and nominees to courts and departments – Republicans also appeared on the verge of taking control.

Though all races were close as of noon Wednesday, Republicans appeared to have a good chance of reclaiming the District 1 seat – which covers the entire North Country – from Democratic Councilor Michael Cryans. Republican Joseph Kenney was ahead in the count two years after Cryans had defeated him.

Winning that race alone would likely give Republicans a 3-2 advantage, on the council, allowing Sununu a freer hand to make nominations to head departments.

Most significantly: It could allow Sununu to appoint his preferred choice to the state Supreme Court. In August 2019, the Democratically-led Council rejected Sununu’s nomination of Gordon MacDonald in a 3-2 vote; Sununu has kept the seat open and refused to bring forward a new nominee for 15 months.

The Republican domination of state-level races came in stark contrast to the results at the congressional and presidential level in New Hampshire.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden had won New Hampshire with 53% of the vote as of noon Wednesday, with 12% of precincts reporting. U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen had easily beaten her opponent Corky Messner with 56% of the vote; and Democrats Chris Pappas and Annie Kuster held on as well.

In a statement around noon Wednesday, New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley acknowledged the grim picture for his party in the State House, even while talking up the wins at the federal level.

“It’s clear that New Hampshire voters were focused on the Trump sideshow in Washington and not on the GOP circus in Concord, and while last night’s state results may not be what we’d hoped, voters have elected a slate of strong Democratic leaders, and I am proud of the honest, local, and positive campaigns they ran this year.

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at 369-3307, edewitt@cmonitor.com, or on Twitter at @edewittNH.)




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