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Kevin Landrigan's Granite Status: Women, millennials power big municipal wins for NH Dems

By KEVIN LANDRIGAN
New Hampshire Union Leader

November 08. 2017 10:04PM




There’s no doubt Tuesday was a good night for New Hampshire Democrats.

Manchester Mayor-Elect Joyce Craig’s strong win over incumbent Ted Gatsas, a Republican, surely tops the list but every other city mayor who was a registered Democrat also won their own reelection, in Concord, Somersworth and Rochester.

Democratic leaders in the Legislature added to their win total with two more special election victories for New Hampshire House seats, in Manchester and a four-town district in Sullivan County.

The win for Erika Connors in Manchester’s Ward 8 flipped that seat, which Republican Steve Vaillancourt held until his untimely death last spring.

Democrat Brian Sullivan of Grantham held the Sullivan County seat for the Democrats, replacing Grantham Democrat Andrew Schmidt, who stepped down in June after moving to New London.

“New Hampshire voters are rejecting the Donald Trump-Chris Sununu agenda by showing up to the polls and electing Democrats to office,” Democratic Party Chairman Raymond Buckley said. “There is no seat Democrats can’t compete for in 2017, and these wins put us that much closer to taking back state and national majorities a year from now.”

A lesser-known but big pickup came in Nashua, where Democrats swept the open aldermanic races with three young contenders winning highly competitive at-large seats, Dave Tencza, Shoshanna Kelly, and Brandon Laws.

Among those defeated in this race were former Nashua chamber executive and mayoral candidate Chris Williams and former Alderman Mark Cookson.

The New Hampshire Young Democrats organization has grown substantially since the 2016 election and Nashua is one of the best places the group has mined for new activists.

Executive Director and State Rep. Amelia Keane vowed this is going to lead to real change in the Gate City.

“Time and again, leaders in our city have put roadblocks in the way of common sense policies that will attract and retain more millennials such as the development of passenger rail, compassionate solutions to the opioid crisis, and meaningful investments in our public schools,” Keane said.

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My City Hall reporting colleague, Paul Feely, has the best handle on this, of course, but the numbers in Manchester suggest Craig and her energized Democratic base won this race more than Gatsas lost it.

Compared to two years ago, Gatsas got close to the same number of votes, 10,085 in 2015 compared to 10,554 on Tuesday.

For Craig, the tale of the tape was very different, for her vote total grew from 10,021 two years ago to 12,053 earlier this week.

“This is what we saw across the state, namely that our core supporters enthusiastically turned out in greater numbers than before,” said Senate Democratic Leader Jeff Woodburn. “We’ve clearly got the spring in our step.”

Woodburn said he noticed this phenomenon in July with the State Senate special election that Manchester Democrat and Alderman Kevin Cavanaugh won solidly over former State Sen. David Boutin of Hooksett.

“Take a look at the Manchester ward numbers for that race and those on Tuesday with Joyce and Gatsas and you’ll see a great similarity,” Woodburn said.

“We’ve looked at all the special elections and found that even in clearly Republican districts, Democrats have been getting 53, 54 and 55 percent of the vote. The profile of the voters isn’t any different; the difference is our people are motivated and theirs aren’t.”

State Sen. Bob Guida, R-Warren, said elections run in cycles and Republicans need to stay true to their principles.

“Remember how many times Abraham Lincoln had to run before he won,” Guida said to his followers on Facebook. “Remember that we are the party of Abraham Lincoln. In the immortal words of Winston Churchill, “Nevah give up. Nevah give up. Nevah, nevah, nevah give up.”

New England College professor Wayne Lesperance said these results are also a sign the more ideological wings of both parties are controlling the outcomes.

“I heard a great quote last night that I thought was worth sharing. Both parties used to be more carpet than fringe,” Lesperance said.

“Today, we see far more fringe than carpet.”

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Human rights advocates were celebrating the first transgender person elected in New Hampshire, Democrat Gerri Cannon, who won a seat on the Somersworth School Board.

Cannon has been active in the State House campaign to create a state law that bans discrimination against anyone based on their “sexual assignment.”

Craig was the first woman elected mayor in Manchester and women fell just shy of getting the first majority ever on the Nashua Board of Aldermen.

Men still hold the edge, but only by an 8-7 split.

Some observers saw the votes about Keno as yet another illustration of a motivated, left-wing base.

You knew the expanded gambling game was going to have difficulty winning approval in Keene, where according to published reports even the bar and restaurant owners in the liberal college town weren’t very enthusiastic about it.

Concord was viewed as potentially enemy territory for Keno advocates for the same reason and also because this city lacks full-day, public kindergarten.

Homeowners already unhappy with their tax bills in Concord might have viewed the game as leading to still bigger hits to their wallets.

But what about Dover, the third city that rejected it?

This one most surprised state lottery officials.

Dover is a big D Democratic city but an industrial one, whose bar and restaurant owners probably would have welcomed the game of chance.

But they, too, voted no.

Before Tuesday’s vote in New Hampshire, State Lottery Executive Director Charles McIntyre said in his experience, in neighboring Massachusetts about 80 percent of voters in cities and towns that consider the game endorse it.

Instead, here it was 70 percent, seven of 10 voting yes and one of them, Rochester, by only a single vote, 836-835.

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Democratic leaders expect the good news will encourage more, not fewer, to come out and run for the First Congressional District seat that Rep. Carol Shea-Porter will voluntarily be stepping down from next year.

One who’s sure to be a leading contender, Executive Councilor Chris Pappas, D-Manchester, is expected soon to decide whether to get in and more signs are pointing to a go than a stop at this point.

Senate leader Woodburn said a big take away from this week is 2018 could be a good year for fresh faces to get into the fray.

“I’d say to anyone that the water is fine, c’mon in,” Woodburn said. “A congressional race is a much more challenging decision than running for an office in Concord but if you’ve got a message, a strategy, some connections and a sound plan to raise enough money then this could be your year.”

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State Republican leaders acknowledge the next seven weeks are very important for the two, declared Republican contenders, State Sen. Andy Sanborn, R-Bedford, and former liquor law enforcement chief Eddie Edwards of Dover.

National GOP leaders will be watching very closely how well both are able to do in the balance of this fourth quarter of federal campaign financing which concludes at the end of December.

If both fail to meet D.C. expectations, the push will likely be on for others to enter this primary.

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Congratulations to longtime, Republican campaign operative Paul Young who is celebrating the 30-year anniversary of his Novus Public Affairs consulting firm.

Some wondered back in the mid-1990s whether the Seacoast fixture Young had lost his senses leaving a very comfortable, corporate P.R. job to strike out and form his own firm.

Novus’ client list today ranges from national fixtures like Walmart, RiteAid and Waste Management to local staples like Works Bakery Cafe and Meridian Construction.

“The communications and political environment is changing, but the fundamentals remain the same and our team possesses the knowledge and the expertise to navigate through new waters,” Young said. “Our new online capabilities allow our clients an integrated approach to an increasingly complex environment for communicating message and brand.”

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Surely these results make it more likely that Colin Van Ostern runs for governor again in 2018.

As the candidate who came close to beating Gov. Chris Sununu last November, Van Ostern has the luxury of time on his side.

He doesn’t have to make up his mind any time soon and if he decides to run, many potential candidates will react by sitting this one out.

In recent months, Van Ostern has been more visible at party building events across the state.

State Democratic leaders believe Sununu’s current popularity in the polls could be reversed with the right opponent and the right mode of attack.

Buckley is fond of pointing out the last, one-term Republican governor, Craig Benson, had decent poll numbers in 2003 before he lost to Democrat John Lynch the following year.

At least one Democrat who shows no signs of shying away even with Van Ostern in the race is 2016 Democratic primary runner-up Steve Marchand of Portsmouth.

Marchand has learned from last year’s experience and is determined to come into this race not as badly outspent as he was.

Little wonder then there was Marchand Wednesday with another e-mail fundraising letter to the faithful.

“These remarkable results did not just happen - they were the result of the hard work of candidates, staff, and volunteers who have channeled energy into action. We have moved from being against things, to being for people and ideas and the results speak for themselves,” Marchand wrote.

“Now, with the momentum of 2017 at our back, 2018 begins in earnest. I have done over 120 meet-and-greet style events this year, with thousands of grassroots supporters helping do the quiet, early work of making 2018 an historic success. The gubernatorial race is the only statewide election on the ballot next year - the only chance to communicate who we are, and what we want the future to be. 2018 is well underway, and our urgency must match the moment.”

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There’s fresh speculation about it on Capitol Hill, why couldn’t it exist in Concord?

This is the likelihood of Democrats taking over the New Hampshire House in 2016

Winning the U.S. House was thought to be unthinkable but Democratic partisans are sounding more optimistic particularly in the wake several, veteran, U.S. House Republicans who have announced they aren’t running next year.

The odds in New Hampshire are probably longer.

It’s true the breakthrough for New Hampshire Democrats first taking over the 400-person House was in 2006, also a midterm election for a Republican president.

What has changed, however, is redistricting that took place after the 2010 election under former House Speaker Bill O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon.

Redrawing of all the district lines has lengthened the odds of Democrats winning seats particularly in the rural and suburban regions of the state.

Democrats did turn that tide in 2012 but this followed two very controversial years under Speaker O’Brien who was coping with a popular Democratic governor (Lynch).

There’s been far less ideological warfare under Speaker Shawn Jasper, R-Hudson.

And with Jasper likely departing soon to become commissioner of agriculture, the next Republican speaker is not going to be in power long enough to engender the kind of negative publicity that O’Brien had attracted by November 2012.

The Executive Council is set to vote on Jasper’s nomination Nov. 22.

Email news and tips to granitestatus@unionleader.


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