Back on the trail, Kelly lashes out at Gov. SununuBy TODD FEATHERS
New Hampshire Union Leader
September 12. 2018 11:00PM
MANCHESTER — Just over 12 hours after declaring victory in the Democratic primary for governor, Molly Kelly was back on the campaign trail Wednesday, courting voters at the Red Arrow Diner.
A crowd of Kelly’s campaign volunteers gathered outside the downtown establishment, a required stop for aspiring politicians, to cheer for Kelly, a former state senator who won her Tuesday night contest against former Portsmouth mayor Steve Marchand with 66 percent of the vote.
Speaking to reporters outside the diner, she quickly pivoted to focus on her opponent in the general election: incumbent Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, whom she characterized as beholden to companies like Eversource Energy, which has donated to his campaign.
“We need to build a New Hampshire that works for the people of New Hampshire and puts the people first, not special interests,” Kelly said. “We need a New Hampshire where everybody has the opportunity to succeed, not just a few.”
She declared her differences with Sununu in several high-profile policy areas, including paid family medical leave and school vouchers.
Last session, Sununu’s opposition to paid family leave legislation helped kill the bill in the Senate.
“I will make paid family leave, as governor, a reality because we do need to be with the people we love the most when they need it the most,” she said.
On education, she took aim at legislation Sununu championed that would divert some state school funds to tuition for parents who want their children to attend private schools. The bill failed in the House last session.
“Chris Sununu supports a school voucher program that weakens public education and will raise our property taxes,” Kelly said. “I want to strengthen public education so that everyone has an opportunity, every child has an opportunity no matter where they’re born, where they live or where they go to school.”
However, Kelly spoke with constituents who wanted to talk about another issue: the opioid epidemic.
Terry Ickes, 55, is the house manager at the Helping Hands sober living center across from the diner.
He doesn’t usually vote, he said before Kelly arrived, but he’s considering casting a ballot this year because he believes the candidates are focused on New Hampshire, rather than national issues.
“I think Chris Sununu has tried to address (addiction), but I don’t like some of his policies,” Ickes said. “I just think he hasn’t tried to get enough funds to battle the opioid crisis.”
Earlier this year, the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration announced that it would increase New Hampshire’s annual funding to combat the epidemic from $3 million to $26 million.
The boost has been the subject of political wrangling, with the two parties arguing whether Sununu or the state’s two Democratic senators are primarily to thank for the extra money.
After speaking with Kelly for several minutes outside the diner, Ickes declared: “I like her.”
Kerrie Nichols, 40, of Manchester, was heading into the Red Arrow for breakfast as Kelly was leaving.
She used to be deeply involved in politics but has grown disenchanted after President Donald Trump’s election, she said. If she does vote for governor in the Nov. 6 election, it will also be for a candidate who focuses on the opioid epidemic.
Kelly faces a stiff challenge, but has a reason to be optimistic.
An Aug. 20 poll from the University of New Hampshire Survey Center found that 61 percent of respondents approved of the job Sununu has done and only 21 percent disapproved. But 72 percent of Granite Staters had yet to decide who to vote for, according to the poll.
On Wednesday, Kelly said she was invigorated by the record turnout in the Democratic primary and cautioned Sununu not to underestimate her.
“I was underestimated when I took on a Republican leader in the state Senate, and I won that election,” she said.