NOT ONLY DID Gov. Chris Sununu collect nearly 90% of the Republican primary vote last Tuesday, he didn’t do badly among Democrats.
In the Democratic primary, 4,276 voters wrote in Sununu’s name. That translates to 2.9% of the all-time-high turnout of 156,976 who cast a ballot in those races.
According to Secretary of State Bill Gardner, Sununu came up just shy of the modern-day record for the other party’s write-ins, behind former four-term Democratic Gov. John Lynch, who in 2006 received 4,794 Republic write-in votes.
Sununu’s performance on both ballots, likely linked to his pandemic leadership, is a strong signal that Democratic nominee Dan Feltes and his team not only have to win over independents and other voters that didn’t take part last Tuesday, they have to play defense, too.
By comparison, 133 Republicans wrote in Feltes’ name in the GOP primary, and 93 wrote in Democratic runner-up Andru Volinsky.
For additional perspective, in 2016 Sununu ran and narrowly won his first primary for governor over Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut.
In that primary, just 200 Democrats wrote in Sununu’s name, and 100 Republican primary voters wrote in Democratic nominee Colin Van Ostern.
What is more concerning to the Democratic faithful is that of those who did cast ballots, 9.1% or 14,363 did not vote for anyone for governor. On the Republican ballot, only 1.2% skipped the governor’s race.
In the U.S. Senate Democratic primary race on the ballot just below governor, won easily by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, just 3.5 % of voters didn’t cast a vote.
How Feltes hung on
As Senate majority leader and the candidate with much more money and establishment support, Feltes was the early favorite.
Volinsky made this far more of a race than most observers thought he would.
Feltes pulled away on primary night because of a solid ground game despite COVID-19 restrictions and because Volinsky ran out of resources and couldn’t make some of the final investments any contender should make.
By the numbers, this was no photo finish, with Feltes winning 53% to 47%.
Volinsky took four counties — Cheshire, Coos, Strafford and Sullivan. But as everyone knows, that isn’t where the votes are in New Hampshire.
Hillsborough, Rockingham and, to more of an extent in the Democratic primary, Merrimack County are the big hunting grounds. Feltes swept them all.
Consider the big three cities of Manchester, Nashua and Concord. Feltes won every one of the 31 wards in those communities. He received 60% of the vote in Nashua, 59.2% in Concord and 57.3% in Manchester.
Feltes beat Volinsky statewide by 7,060 votes. He won those three cities by 6,690 votes. You get the picture.
Volinsky didn’t have enough money to do any mailings that could have stemmed some of the bleeding in those urban areas, and Feltes outspent Volinsky on TV, 3-to-1, as of the week before the primary.
The support of two-time New Hampshire presidential primary winner Bernie Sanders and Volinsky’s refusal to take the no-income tax pledge surely put air under his sail in more liberal areas.
But in place after place, Feltes managed to blunt the impact. For example, he beat Volinsky by 140 votes in Hanover, where income-tax supporting Democrats have always run up the score.
Volinsky’s wins in the other college towns of Durham (1,396-776), Keene (1,894-1,287) and Plymouth (424-274) probably met expectations, but they clearly weren’t big enough to offset the Golden Triangle showing.
Insiders believe Volinsky’s strong performance partly reflected Feltes not spending a dime raising questions about his opponent on TV, mail, digital or other voter messaging.
Feltes chided Volinsky during their only televised debate and at some candidate forums, but the candidate sounded more like he was talking to his own supporters in code rather than earnestly criticizing his opponent.
What will DGA do?
With the primary behind him, Feltes needs the Democratic Governors Association to invest in this race over the next seven weeks if he’s to have a realistic shot of knocking off a popular two-term incumbent.
At the New Hampshire Democratic Party unity event Thursday, DGA Chairman and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said all the right things.
“Chris Sununu is exactly the sort of governor we need to put on the sideline,” said Murphy, who grew up in Massachusetts and insists he still lives and dies by the Red Sox and the New England Patriots.
Murphy recited the Feltes talking point that Sununu is only pro-abortion rights when elections roll around.
Murphy signed one of the nation’s most progressive, paid family and medical leave laws while Sununu twice vetoed bills Feltes had championed on the issue.
“You want to turn the page away from all of that,” Murphy said. “We are going to jump in with both feet to make sure Dan becomes governor.”
In 2016, the DGA did spend early and heavily on behalf of Colin Van Ostern, who gave Sununu all he could handle.
Two years later, they sat out the race that Sununu won solidly over former, five-term state Sen. Molly Kelly.
After devoting a whole lot of his campaign budget to beating Volinsky, Feltes could sure use a DGA boost in the coming weeks.
If Feltes knows if that is comijng, he wasn’t saying.
“Phil Murphy is with us Thursday which I really appreciate and I’ll just leave it at that,” Feltes said.
Few House upsets
Despite the number of primaries in both parties, only four Democratic incumbents and five Republican House members lost.
The biggest upset was in Cheshire County where nine-term Rep. and longtime educator Henry Parkhurst, D-Winchester, lost to Selectman Natalie Quevedo.
Other Democratic losers were Reps. William Pearson of Keene, and Ken Gidge and Fred Davis of Nashua.
On the GOP front, the highest profile winner was retired Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Lynn, who took the fourth seat in Windham, edging incumbent Rep. Walter Kolodziej.
Other Republican members who came up short were John Plumer of Belmont, Abigail Rooney of Middleton and William Fowler and Jason Janvrin, both of Seabrook.
Key races update
Here are the bottom lines on the 15 races we pointed out in the days before the election as particularly worth watching:
For the open District 2 seat on the Executive Council, Concord lawyer Cinde Warmington survived a strong challenge from Concord law professor and abortion rights leader Leah Plunkett. Somersworth businessman Emmet Soldati turned heads with a strong third-place finish. After attacks from the left, Concord lawyer Jay Surdukowski faded to fifth.
Lempster conservative Jim Beard won the GOP with surprising ease against former VA whistleblower Stewart Levenson of Hopkinton.
In the race for the open District 3 seat on the Council, Democrat and environmental activist Mindi Messmer of Rye rolled up a huge win over longtime state Rep. Patty Lovejoy of Stratham in this red-leaning district.
On the GOP side, Janet Stevens of Rye coasted over North Hampton businessman Bruce Crochetiere and ex-Rep. Tim Comerford of Fremont.
In the Executive Council District 4 Democratic primary and ex-State Rep. and onetime AFL-CIO President Mark McKenzie had little trouble defeating Manchester real estate broker Jerome Duval and Hooksett activist Kola Adewumi. He faces Councilor Ted Gatsas, R-Manchester, in November.
In the GOP primary for the District 5 Council seat, former Councilor Dave Wheeler of Milford won convincingly over former Senate Majority Leader/lobbyist Bob Clegg of Hudson. That sets up another rematch with Councilor Debora Pignatelli, D-Nashua. Four years ago, Wheeler edged Pignatelli. Two years ago, she beat Wheeler.
In the state Senate District 1 GOP primary, David Starr of Franconia became the highest incumbent on either ballot to get knocked off, losing badly to state Rep. Erin Hennessey of Littleton, whom Sununu had backed. The Democrats chose veteran state Rep. Susan Ford of Easton.
In the race for the open Senate District 5 seat, Suzanne Prentiss of Lebanon beat Beatriz Pastor of Lyme, even though retiring Sen. Martha Hennessey, D-Hanover, endorsed Pastor. Big wins in her home city and Claremont were the difference. Prentiss is heavily favored to take out GOP nominee Timothy O’Hearne of Charlestown.
In the Democratic primary for the open Senate District 15 seat, Becky Whitley, 40, of Hopkinton beat former U.S. Rep. Paul Hodes and Concord City Councilor and ex-Rep. Candace Bouchard by holding her own in the capital city (including outright wins in 4 of 10 wards) and clinching the race in her hometown. Whitley, like Feltes six years ago, has emerged as a rising star in the party after knocking off better-known and establishment-backed candidates. She is virtually a shoo-in against Linda Rae Banfill to replace Feltes in the Senate.
In another rematch, ex-Rep. George Lambert of Litchfield beat Ross Terrio of Manchester in the GOP primary and will face Senate President Donna Soucy, D-Manchester, in November, for the Senate District 18 seat.
Soucy has handily beaten each candidate in the past two elections.
In the race for the open Senate District 21 seat, Rebecca Perkins-Kwoka of Portsmouth easily turned aside Portsmouth City Councilor Deaglan McEachern. Retiring Sen. Martha Fuller Clark had endorsed Kwoka. McEachern had many of the Seacoast Democratic establishment on his side. Kwoka will be the favorite against Portsmouth conservative activist Sue Polidura in November.
In the Senate District 24 GOP primary, another of Sununu’s picks, Hampton Falls businessman and Trump delegate Lou Gargiulo, defeated Hampton Selectman Regina Barnes. The November race will be expensive and much-watched. Gargiulo will face Sen. Tom Sherman, D-Rye, a physician who in his first term rose up the ranks as a polished policymaker who played well with others.
In the Hillsborough County Attorney GOP primary, former County Attorney John Coughlin of Amherst beat Bedford trial lawyer Dan Hynes. He faces incumbent Democrat Michael Conlon of Goffstown.
In the open Merrimack County Sheriff’s race, Democrats chose David Croft of Salisbury, and Republicans went with Dennis Crawford of Warner. Both Boscawen Police Chief Croft and retired Deputy Sheriff Crawford are well regarded, but in a presidential year, Democrat Croft looks like the early favorite.
Strafford County Sheriff Lt. Mark Brave of Dover glided past three other Democrats for the department’s top vacancy. Republicans chose the office’s prosecutor, Lt. Paul Callaghan of Rochester. Brave has an early leg up.
In the Rockingham County Sheriff GOP primary, incumbent Chuck Massahos had no trouble beating Rockingham County Commissioner Kevin Coyle of Portsmouth, who couldn’t run for his seat after moving out of the district. Democratic Patrick Rivard of Chester is a heavy underdog.
In the House of Representatives Hillsborough District 36 GOP primary, former House Speaker Bill O’Brien‘s move from Mont Vernon to Nashua Ward 9 paid off politically when he finished second for one of three spots, right behind ex-State Rep. Bill Ohm. The pair, along with businessman Tyler Gouveia, will try to unseat three House Democrats and reverse a devastating 2018 result, which saw Democrats make a clean sweep of the Nashua House delegation for the first time in modern history.