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Kathy Sullivan: A big night for NH Democrats

November 13. 2017 10:44PM

Another round of elections is behind us as we put New Hampshire’s 2017 city elections in the books. Here are a few takeaways from last week’s final results:

The generational shift continues in state politics. A lot of young people ran for office in our cities, and a lot of them won. Young Democrats had a particularly good night. Three were elected in Nashua, with the victory of David Tencza, Brandon Laws, and Shoshanna Kelly the at-large aldermanic races.

Others were elected to city council in Portsmouth, Dover, Somersworth, Keene, and Rochester. Some who lost put a scare into incumbents, such as aldermanic candidates Hassan Essa and school board contestant Ethan Moorhouse in Manchester. The future is bright for the Democratic bench.

Quality candidates matter. Manchester’s incoming mayor, Joyce Craig, is smart, experienced, energetic and hardworking. She ran hard on the need to improve schools, a weakness for Mayor Ted Gatsas. He thought the race was about taxes; it actually was about the future of Manchester. He also did not see that people are worried about property values. When a school district is perceived as having problems, home buyers look elsewhere.

Don’t give up any votes. Craig had a great campaign. Instead of concentrating only on her 2015 strongholds, she competed everywhere. In the Gatsas-friendly wards of 6, 8 and 10, Craig increased her vote total by 574, compared to Gatsas’s 239.

In Ward 8, she did a direct mail piece reminding voters of Gatsas’s failure to oppose an unpopular apartment project. Gatsas won the ward, but by only 73 votes, compared to a 243 vote margin two years earlier.

Person to person contacts win elections. The national pundits tell us that this election was about Donald Trump. While I do not discount a Trump effect, I don’t think Trump motivated people to vote. I think he motivated a lot of Democratic activists to knock on doors and make phone calls. Those conversations convinced people who do not vote in municipal elections that these local offices are important — and the first line of defense when an overreaching authoritarian leads the central government.

Highly paid pundits know nothing. In the four days leading up to the elections, the 24-hour cable news stations obsessed over former DNC chair Donna Brazile’s book. They speculated on what impact it would have in suppressing the Democratic vote. They almost gleefully predicted the party would be on suicide watch if the Republican candidate won the Virginia governor’s race. In the end, that race was not close, and Democrats had a good night everywhere.

Pundits, strategists and analysts did not see what the rest of us in the states and cities saw: that energized Democratic activist base. Pundits should stop talking to each other and get out more to find out what really is happening on the ground.

New Hampshire is electing diverse officials. Manchester elected its first female mayor. In Somersworth, Gerri Cannon also made history winning a school board seat. Not only is she the first openly transgender person elected in Somersworth, she is only the second elected in New Hampshire. Meanwhile, in Nashua, Shoshanna Kelly is the first woman of color elected to the board of aldermen.

Good job, Granite State!

What a difference a strong party makes. With all due respect to the Republicans of New Hampshire, you have an ineffective state party organization that is not showing up. The New Hampshire Democratic Party under chair Raymond Buckley has more money, more staff, and a sense of what it takes to win. It has worked to build strong local committees.

The Republican organization, on the other hand, thinks its job is sending out news releases few read, and posting snarky tweets about people who aren’t on the ballot.

The continuing downward slide of the formerly Grand Old Party was evident in local news coverage of yet another Democratic special election victory last week. One more Republican legislative seat flipped to the Democrats. Instead of quoting GOP chair Jeanie Forrester, it quoted the leadership of the right wing “issues advocacy” group Americans for Prosperity-New Hampshire.

When the media does not even bother talking to the Republican chair, the party has a problem.

Manchester’s Kathy Sullivan is the former chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party.

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