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Primary winners shift their focus to November’s general election

  • Molly Kelly outside the Red Arrow Diner in Manchester on Wednesday. Paul Steinhauser—



For the Monitor
Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Hours after her convincing victory in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, Molly Kelly was back on the campaign trail.

The former state senator from Harrisville was courting voters at the Red Arrow Diner in Manchester, and speaking with reporters.

She called the record turnout of 120,000 voters in the Democratic primary, “historic numbers” that “sent a clear message to Chris Sununu that people in New Hampshire want a change and they want a governor like myself who will put people first and that’s what we’re going to be talking about.”

Sununu, who has history and poll numbers on his side as the eight week sprint toward the general election begins, appears unfazed. His approval ratings are hovering just above
60 percent and only one Granite State governor in the last nine decades has lost re-election to a second two-year
term.

After voting Tuesday morning in his hometown of Newfields, Sununu told the Monitor that Democrats like Kelly are “just talking about such far-left socialistic stuff. It’s just so not New Hampshire.”

Kelly, a single mother who worked her way through college before enjoying success in business and politics, said she’s been underestimated before.

“I know what challenges are about. I’ve never been stopped by a challenge,” she said.

Kelly said she’d highlight the clear policy differences she has with Sununu, including her support for paid family and medical leave, energy and education.

“Chris Sununu has been advancing the interests of Eversource, and taking over $50,000 from Eversource, and we know that our electric bills have gone up. I’m moving forward with renewable energy, clear air, clean water, and I am going to be working and protecting the consumers for sure,” Kelly said.

She also criticized the governor for supporting a school voucher program that she said weakens public education and will raise property taxes.

To defeat Sununu, Kelly will need support from national Democratic groups. Some of that assistance is on the way. The Monitor was first to report Wednesday that Democratic Governors Association chairman Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington will be in New Hampshire on Sunday and Monday to campaign with Kelly. The trip will also spark national interest since Inslee’s a potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidate.

Kelly crushed former Portsmouth mayor Steve Marchand by nearly a two-to-one margin in Tuesday’s primary.

“I think our message really resonated with the people of the state,” she said.

Sununu, the state’s first Republican governor in a dozen years, was unopposed in Tuesday’s Republican gubernatorial primary. He spent Wednesday at the State House, taking care of official business, which included a meeting with his commissioners.

He said his job during the general election is to “remind folks of all the success we’ve had as a team” and he repeated his often-used line that “we’ve gotten more done in the last 20 months than any governor in the last 20 years.”

Sununu discounted the possibility of a national blue wave that could impact the gubernatorial race.

“I can tell you here in New Hampshire with all the success that we’ve had, there’s definitely a red wave,” he said. “I think people vote for success. They vote for one of the strongest economies in the country. They vote for all the job growth that we’ve created. They vote having the lowest poverty rate and the lowest unemployment rate and the highest per capita income.”

2nd Congressional District

The morning after the election, Rep. Annie Kuster – who like Sununu didn’t face any primary challenge – officially kicked off her general election campaign with an event at the Concord Photo Service store on Main Street.

She congratulated her GOP challenger, state Rep. Steve Negron of Nashua, and called on “Negron to commit to a civil debate, focused on the issues and avoiding the name calling and nasty divisive rhetoric that threatens public engagement in our democracy.”

The three-term congresswoman in the state’s 2nd District highlighted her efforts in the nation’s capital to fight the opioid crisis, lower the cost of prescription drugs, cut red tape for veterans and assist small businesses.

Kuster cited her ability to reach across the aisle, saying “I was born bipartisan. ... I’m proud of my record cutting through partisan fighting to get the job.”

The congresswoman from Hopkinton pointed out some of her differences with Negron and said the Republican “primary was really rushing to the far, far, right in terms of wrapping themselves around the White House. This race isn’t about that, but I expect if they keep bringing that up, the voters will have something to say and will have a strong message to send on Nov. 6.”

Negron told the Monitor that he agrees with Kuster that the general election campaign should be issue focused.

“There’s no need to go low because if you can’t win it on the basis of what you bring to the table, then maybe you shouldn’t be in the race. So I embrace what Congresswoman Kuster is saying. Absolutely,” he said.

He spotlighted Kuster’s smaller than expected victory in her last re-election bid, adding “I think that people are going to see what happened in 2016, that she didn’t win by that large of a margin, that maybe there’s some vulnerability there and so we’re going to try to exploit where those areas where people are a little bit unsettled about Congresswoman Kuster.”

Kuster enters the general election with a large fundraising advantage over Negron. He said he was planning a trip to Washington to meet with national Republicans and said he will likely infuse more of his own money into his campaign.

Negron narrowly edged Hopkinton’s Dr. Stewart Levenson to win the nomination, with Concord’s Lynne Blankenbeker coming in a close third, in the seven-candidate field.

Levenson, a whistleblower doctor who flagged abuses at the state’s veterans’ hospital, had conceded victory early Wednesday but is considering asking for a recount, according to a campaign spokeswoman.

The campaign has until 5 p.m. Friday to make a decision. A vote count by the Associated Press showed that with 99 percent of the precincts reporting, Negron led Levenson by 308 votes out of about 43,000 total votes.

1st Congressional District

Executive Councilor Chris Pappas of Manchester, who won the 1st District Democratic primary race by double digits, cited the record turnout as evidence of voters hungry for a change from Republican leadership.

“I think that Democrats and individuals who are looking to support a Democrat for Congress this year understand what’s at stake,” Pappas said.

Pappas spoke with the Monitor after greeting customers at the Puritan Backroom, the restaurant that’s been in his family for a century that he co-owns and runs.

Pappas, who enjoys the support of much of the state’s Democratic establishment, won 42 percent of the vote in an extremely large field of 11 candidates. While the primary race turned ugly this summer, Pappas said he wasn’t worried about unifying the party.

“I received a number of very gracious calls last night,” he said.

The 1st District is one of the most high profile swing congressional districts in the country, ping-ponging between Democrat and GOP control the past four elections. And it’s one of only 12 seats across the country controlled by Democrats that President Donald Trump won in 2016, which gives Republicans hope they can flip the district from blue to red as they try to hold onto their House majority.

Pappas faces off against Dover’s Eddie Edwards.

The Navy veteran who served as chief law enforcement officer for the state liquor commission and briefly as police chief in the small town of South Hampton topped state Sen. Andy Sanborn of Bedford in a five candidate field for the nomination.

“I actually like Pappas,” Edwards told the Monitor.

But at a gathering of Republican activists Saturday, Edwards described his Democratic opponent as “the one who’s homegrown, who’s been a spoiled kid in my opinion.”

Edwards planned to “give the voters a real clear picture of the difference in policy between conservative policies and liberal policies and I think it will be a fair and open conversation so voters have a choice.”

The Edwards-Sanborn race turned ugly this summer, but Edwards was moving on.

“I’ve been receiving phone calls all morning from people wanting to help,” he said. “The notion that somehow we’re not united is overly exaggerated.”

(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.)