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September 11. 2012 10:11PM

It'll be Lamontagne vs. Hassan for NH governor


Ovide Lamontagne, republican candidate for the Governor of New Hampshire, addresses supporters while his wife Bettie watches at the Grappone Center in Concord Tuesday night. (Mark Bolton/Union Leader)

Democratic nominee for governor Maggie Hassan addresses supporters at the Puritan Backroom in Manchester on Tuesday. (JOSH GIBNEY/UNION LEADER)
Republican Ovide Lamontagne and Democrat Maggie Hassan on Tuesday easily won their parties' nominations for the governor's seat being vacated by John Lynch and now head into an intense, eight-week sprint to the general election offering clear differences on many issues.

The candidates, however, agree on one thing. Both say they would veto an income or sales tax.

Lamontagne raced ahead of Litchfield consultant Kevin Smith in returns from Lamontagne's native and home city of Manchester and other key communities statewide and continued to a landslide win.

With about 60 percent of the vote reported in the GOP race, Lamontagne led Smith, 69 to 29 percent.

On the Democratic side, Hassan led fellow former state Sen. Jackie Cilley, 55 to 38 percent, with 8 percent for retired military officer Bill Kennedy.

Shortly after Smith conceded, Lamontagne told the New Hampshire Union Leader the general election “will be about jobs, jobs and jobs.”

“I believe my message will stand in stark contrast to the Democratic nominee,” he said, “whether we move forward with a free-market, pro-growth agenda or with continued bigger government and higher taxes.”

Speaking to enthusiastic supporters in Concord, Lamontagne said Smith accepted his invitation to unify and “be part of our winning team.”
He said the economic challenges the state faces need “strong, experienced and tested leadership in the governor's office.”

Both Hassan and Cilley have records of supporting “big government solutions” to the state's problem, Lamontagne said.

He said they are “part of the 'You Didn't Build That' team,” attempting to link them to President Barack Obama.

Lamontagne called for beefing up local control and a constitutional amendment “to get the courts out of our educational system once and for all.” He also called for a right-to-work law, saying workers should be able to choose whether to join a union.

“I know and I love New Hampshire,” he said. “Our people are hard-working and cherish their independence.” He promised to bring “those cherished values with me” to the governor's office. But he said he will set aside party labels and “be a governor for all of New Hampshire if I'm elected.”

Lamontagne warned supporters to be ready for a negative campaign by Democratic “liberal bosses in Concord.”

Hassan upset convention wisdom by also winning handily. Many pundits had predicted she would win, but that the margin would be razor-thin.

Speaking in Manchester following Cilley's concession speech, Hassan said her party will also unify. She said she and Lamontagne “offer two very different visions” of the state.

She promised to “move New Hampshire forward with an innovation plan that will move our state forward so our families can succeed.

“And let me be very clear, I will veto an income or sales tax,” Hassan said.

Lamontagne has long been a staunch supporter of the anti-tax pledge, while Hassan was open to an income tax during a state Senate race 10 years ago and then opposed broad based taxes in subsequent races.

Lamontagne “will move our state backward,” she said, trying repeatedly to link him to the Tea Party.

She said that as a senator, she has worked with Lynch on NH Works and a research and development tax credit, which she said she would double as governor.

“And I will help sell New Hampshire and it's products across the nation and around the world,” Hassan said, adding that she will work to “keep kindergarten” in tact if she is elected, “because that's the New Hampshire way.”

Lamontagne rolled up lopsided wins in his home city of Manchester, winning his home Ward 7, 468 to 85 for Smith; Ward 6, 610 to 168; and Ward 1, 893 to 255.

In Merrimack, Lamontagne won big, 1,635 to 659 and he took Hollis, 559 to 212. Lamontagne also won Exeter, 788 to 295.

Trailing the two GOP conservatives was 43-year-old unemployed former store manager Robert Tarr of Manchester.

In key Democratic returns, Hassan won in the Upper Valley town of New London and was leading narrowly in Concord. Cilley edged Hassan in Hopkinton, and while Hassan won big in Bristol, Cilley did the same in Meredith.

Lamontagne, the 54-year-old managing partner at the Devine Millimet and Branch law firm, will head the state GOP ticket for the second time, appearing just below Mitt Romney on the Nov. 6 ballot. He won the 1996 GOP governor's primary, upsetting then-U.S. Rep. Bill Zeliff, but lost in the general election to Democrat Jeanne Shaheen, who went on to serve three terms as governor before winning a U.S. Senate seat.

He returned to politics two years ago, losing by only 1,667 votes to Kelly Ayotte in the GOP U.S. Senate primary. His first run for office came 20 years ago when he lost to Zeliff in the 1st District U.S. House primary.

While Lamontagne relied on his staunch conservative credentials and his long resume in the GOP, Smith, a 35-year-old consultant who served in the state House in the late 1990s, was making his first bid for high office.

Lamontagne, known as a staunch fiscal and social conservative who won praise from the Tea Party in 2010, promised in this campaign to be less partisan as governor, vowing to “check my political party at the door.”

He promised to handle the job with the same open-minded approach that Lynch has become known for, but also said he will display stronger leadership qualities than the retiring four-term Democrat.

Lamontagne says in one of his television ads that his “Granite State roots run four generations deep,” adding, “I am New Hampshire.”

Smith, equal to Lamontagne in his fiscal and social conservatism, billed himself as a newcomer with a more aggressive and detailed economic plan.

“I have traveled to every corner of our great state, armed with a long-term vision and bold new plan for how we're going to make New Hampshire into the most economically competitive state in the country,” Smith, the former executive director of the conservative Cornerstone Action advocacy group, told supporters in a primary day e-mail.

Tax differences

While both Republicans Lamontagne and Smith promised to veto a broad-based sales or income tax, each of the three Democratic candidates took a different position as they vied for the right to battle this fall to continue their party's domination of New Hampshire gubernatorial elections.

Like Lynch, Exeter resident Hassan took the traditional pledge to veto a sales or income tax, saying her position reflects the will of the voters. Barrington resident Cilley refused, blasting “pledge zombies” in a television ad and promised to have “an honest conversation” about revenue options if elected.

Kennedy, of Danbury, outright proposed an income tax as a way to offset rising property taxes.

Conventional wisdom was that Democratic voters are split virtually 50-50 on the income tax issue, so the Tuesday vote was expected to hinge on who, between Hassan and Cilley, would do a better job getting her supporters to the polls.

Many Democrats are weary of the pledge, but clearly, many more realize that Democrats won seven of the last eight gubernatorial elections with candidates committed to the veto.

The exception was Shaheen in her third run for governor, when she shunned the pledge. And in that election, she failed to get a majority, winning with a plurality of 49 percent over Republican Gordon Humphrey, an independent and an Libertarian.

Organized labor backing was split between Hassan and Cilley. Hassan far outraised and outspent Cilley, but could not break away from the Berlin native's dogged campaign.

Secretary of State Bill Gardner predicted last week that 168,000 voters would cast ballots in Tuesday's primary — 102,000 on the Republican side and 66,000 on the Democratic side. Independents, which comprise the largest voting bloc, were free in the primary to choose either ballot and had the option of then changing their registrations back to independent after voting.

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John DiStaso may be reached at jdistaso@unionleader.com.

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