District 16 Senate candidates rally support ahead of special election

  • The State House dome as seen on March 5, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) ELIZABETH FRANTZ

  • David Boutin

  • Kevin Cavenaugh

Monitor staff
Tuesday, July 18, 2017

With less than two weeks to go before the special election for the District 16 state Senate seat, the candidates are pulling out all the stops to try and motivate voters to turn out.

Both Republican David Boutin of Hooksett and Democrat Kevin Cavanaugh of Manchester have full schedules of door-knocking and phone calling ahead of them before the July 25 special election. They, along with Libertarian Jason Dubrow of Dunbarton, will be vying for the seat left empty by Democratic Sen. Scott McGilvray, who died in March.

On the road with them in Dunbarton, Bow, Hooksett, Candia and parts of Manchester will be some of the biggest political names in the state.

On the Democrat side, former gubernatorial candidate Colin Van Ostern led a canvassing effort on Saturday. Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky and Congresswoman Annie Kuster are signed up for efforts next week. Cavanaugh, a Manchester Ward 1 Alderman, also released on Thursday a biographical video on social media, focusing on his background as a union employee of New England Telephone and then FairPoint Communications.

On the Republican side, Gov. Chris Sununu and former senator Kelly Ayotte may not be campaigning in person with Boutin, but they’ll be on the airwaves in 60-second ads on several radio stations that reach the district. Boutin’s campaign says several state senators will also be joining him in canvassing in the next week.

But it’s all necessary, says Wayne Lesperance, political science professor at New England College, to overcome a political climate that has even the most politically-inclined feeling apathetic.

“A lot of voters want nothing to do with politics right now. Even people like me are not into it in the summer,” Lesperance said. “It’s not just voter turnout candidates have to overcome, it’s apathy and a lack of engagement. On top of that, you’ve got people who are – thanks to the political climate – disgusted with politics in general. It’s hard to engage people.”

These big-gun efforts, along with the traditional mailers, fliers and signs, aren’t cheap. Both parties have reported thousands of dollars spent, and campaign contributions have hit six-digit figures, with Boutin’s campaign receiving about $10,000 more than Cavanaugh by July 5, according to the Secretary of State’s website.

Republican groups, including the New Hampshire Republican State Committee, have also rallied behind Boutin, spending about $14,000 in this election as of July 12. No Democratic PACs or groups have filed any reports to date, according to the Secretary of State. A call to the New Hampshire Democratic Party was not returned.

Big spending doesn’t surprise Lesperance, who predicted the election will be more tribal, or party-focused, than issue-based. “It’s all about climate in a special election, but at any time, it all comes down to voter turnout,” he said. “Candidates are going to have to mobilize their bases and ... make this election part of a larger narrative. This is more about Republicans versus Democrats than it is District 16 issues.”

But the candidates disagreed, saying the issues they’re hearing from voters – school funding, voting rights and the opioid crisis – are relevant to Granite Staters while also receiving attention on the national level.

“These issues, they’re always going to present themselves,” Boutin said in a telephone interview.

Boutin has been aggressive about pushing absentee voters since the early days of the election, and has given absentee ballot applications to voters while knocking on doors. He said the results of his efforts have been positive, but he’s not planning to slack off any time soon.

“I don’t want to diminish the challenge of an election in the middle of the summer,” he said. “We’ll be working right up until July 25.”

Cavanaugh agreed that getting people out to vote, not any particular issue, has been the focus of his campaign. “I think having the primary was helpful, because it helped get us off the ground,” he said of his campaign against Jim Normand. “Now we’re ramping up, and in the next two weeks we’ll definitely be ramping up the notifications about the election.”

Cavanaugh, in particular, can’t afford to let up, as he’s facing a long history of Republican control in the district. A Democrat last held the district 50 years ago, and this isn’t Boutin’s first go-around as a state senator – he’s won election here four times before including a previous special election. The Senate is currently stacked in Republicans favor, 14-9.

District 16 also intersects with Hillsborough County, a pivot county that voted for former president Barack Obama in 2008 and 2016, but voted for President Donald Trump in 2016, according to Ballotpedia.

“There’s no doubt this is a tough district,” Cavanaugh said. “One of the things I’ve been stressing to people is, if you’re undeclared, look at who I am – throw out political affiliation and look at what I’ve done. My voice is from a working family, and I intend to bring that to Concord.”

Lesperance said while it might appear that Boutin would have the edge this time around, he said Libertarian Dubrow shouldn’t be discounted. “He might take votes away,” he said.

And Lesperance also pointed out that a recent special election in Wolfeboro’s District 6, which by all accounts should have been a Republican sweep, ended in an upset when Democrat Edith DesMarais defeated Republican Matthew Plache 811-755. A Democrat hasn’t won that district since 1913.

“There’s a lot of anti-incumbancy sentiment out there,” Lesperance said. “If Boutin’s been an elected official for some time previously, his opponent might be able to paint him negatively on that.”

(Caitlin Andrews can be reached at 369-3309, candrews@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @ActualCAndrews.)