Former state Sen. Molly Kelly of Harrisville won the Democratic nomination for governor Tuesday, earning the right to take on incumbent Republican Chris Sununu in November.
With 55 percent of precincts reporting, unofficial election results showed Kelly with an almost 2-1 lead over former Portsmouth Mayor Steve Marchand, 67 percent to 33 percent, as of 10 p.m. Tuesday.
"What a night," said Kelly, who gathered with campaign staff and supporters inside the Keene State College Alumni Center. "Tonight we celebrate. Tomorrow, we take on Chris Sununu. When I'm governor, the people of New Hampshire will come first. It's time to put people's interest ahead of corporate special interests."
Just after 9 p.m., Marchand thanked supporters who gathered at Penuche's Music Hall in Manchester to watch results.
"I'll make a few remarks so we can do some eating and drinking, I think I'll be doing some drinking," said Marchand. "I spoke with Molly Kelly. She has my full support in the general election. We need to defeat Chris Sununu in November. Thank you all for your support." Throughout the campaign, the two Democratic candidates for governor embraced liberal themes on gun control, immigration, aid to education and raising state taxes to meet New Hampshire's needs.
Kelly, 68, got into the gubernatorial race late but as a former four-term state senator she attracted plenty of support from party leaders. U.S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, both D-NH, endorsed her, along with Rep. Annie Kuster, D-NH, and the state's two biggest teacher unions. Planned Parenthood and Emily's List, the nation's two most powerful groups supporting pro-abortion rights candidates, also backed her.
Kelly is the second of 11 children. After attending Keene State College and Franklin Pierce Law Center, she began working as a financial adviser.
She successfully ran for the state Senate for the first time in 2006 and was re-elected four times. Since leaving the Senate in 2016, Kelly has served as acting director of the Antioch University of New England Center for Civic Engagement in Keene.
She has a daughter, three sons and seven grandchildren, and lives in Harrisville with her husband, Art Luptowski.
Marchand, 44, never stopped campaigning for the state's corner office after finishing a distant second to Colin Van Ostern in the 2016 primary. A Manchester native raised on the West Side, Marchand received a B.S in international relations, a B.A. in public affairs and a master's degree in public administration from Syracuse University.
He served as mayor of Portsmouth from 2006 to 2008 and worked as the director of corporate relations for the University of New Hampshire. He and his wife, Sandi Hennequin, live in Portsmouth with their two daughters.
Democrats are hoping this November to regain New Hampshire's corner office.
Sununu, the son of a former governor and younger brother of a former U.S. senator, broke the Democrats' winning streak of six in a row and eight of the last nine elections, narrowly defeating fellow Executive Councilor Van Ostern, a Concord Democrat, in 2016.
Since being elected, Sununu has brought forth a balanced two-year state budget, another round of business tax cuts, full-day kindergarten and a five-year expansion of Medicaid from the Republican-led Legislature.
Throughout the campaign, Kelly and Marchand both accused Sununu of "shooting from the hip" too often, sucking up to the Trump administration and embracing an energy policy that's far more friendly to major utilities contributing to his campaign than it is to energy consumers in the state.
Sununu issued a statement just after polls closed at 8 p.m., saying he is "humbled" to have the opportunity to seek a second term.
"Today in New Hampshire, more people are working than ever before, wages are rising, and a family's zip code no longer defines their child's chance to succeed," said Sununu. "I am humbled by the support, and look forward to promoting our pro-growth, pro-jobs agenda over the next 56 days. We are getting the job done for New Hampshire — without raising taxes or fees — and Granite Staters are taking notice."
"New Hampshire Democrats have finally settled on which sacrificial candidate will lose to Governor Sununu in seven weeks: tax and spender Molly Kelly," said NHGOP Chairman Wayne MacDonald in a statement. "Molly was a far-left liberal senator, and she's a far-left liberal candidate. She was wrong for New Hampshire in the state senate, and she's wrong for the New Hampshire corner office. New Hampshire is on the right track under Chris Sununu, and we cannot risk going back to the economic stagnation, tax hikes, and limited opportunity we experienced under Democrat administrations."
The Republican Governors Association wasted no time issuing a statement calling Kelly a "tax hiker."
Democratic Governors Association Executive Director Elisabeth Pearson countered by saying Sununu's record puts him "out of step" with New Hampshire residents.
"Over the past two years, Chris Sununu has made it clear at every turn that he puts special interests and Republican party politics ahead of the needs of the Granite State's working families and small businesses," said Pearson.