Democratic Candidates For N.H. Governor Have A Lot To Say, But Is Anyone Listening?

Jun 27, 2018

Democratic candidate Molly Kelly talks about energy in front of a sparse crowd in Nashua
Credit Annie Ropeik for NHPR

New Hampshire’s two Democratic candidates for governor have been hitting the campaign trail hard this summer – but so far, they haven’t had much of an audience.

Molly Kelly and Steve Marchand are struggling to draw attention to their primary race – while focused on targeting incumbent Republican Governor Chris Sununu.

NHPR reporters Josh Rogers and Annie Ropeik went to two campaign stops Wednesday find out more.

Marchand in Manchester: 'Going big' on immigration

Steve Marchand talks to a thin crowd in Manchester
Credit Josh Rogers for NHPR

Steve Marchand stood in Lafayette Park on Manchester’s West Side, insisting, adamantly, on the wisdom of what he terms "going big."

“Being big and bold and going for it is going to be rewarded, because if you don’t go that way, in the age of Trump, you will lose," he said.

Marchand himself was going big with a necktie festooned with fleur-de-lis, his campaign logo.

He spoke in paragraphs as he pitched a plan that his campaign bills as one to make New Hampshire a "sanctuary state."

But his audience was small - four people, not including reporters and campaign staff. And that’s if you count the candidate’s mother.

“My mom is right behind you," Marchand said. "Hey Mom!”

The cameo was on topic, as both Marchand’s parents were immigrants from Quebec. They came legally back in the 1960s.

Steve Marchand's mom (left) attends his campaign event at Lafayette Park in Manchester
Credit Josh Rogers for NHPR

The policies Marchand is pushing are more germane to those who didn’t come legally: He wants to allow undocumented immigrants to get state drivers' licenses, make their children eligible for in-state tuition, and limit how much state and local police cooperate with customs and immigration officials.

But Marchand says all immigrants need to be seen for what he says they have always been in this country: a boon.

“The future of New Hampshire is to get younger and more entrepreneurial," he said, "and it turns out that immigrants are at the bull’s eye and getting more entrepreneurial.”

For any candidate running in a season where all politics seem driven by Washington and the White House, a bull's eye may be to get voters to pay attention.

One way to do that is to yoke state issues to ones roiling our national politics.

Kelly in Nashua: Making waves on Sununu's energy policy

Molly Kelly with state sen. Bette Laskey (in white) and Nashua waterways manager Madeline Mineau
Credit Annie Ropeik for NHPR

In recent days, Molly Kelly has focused on her state policy platform, especially around energy and jobs.

In press releases and at campaign stops, she's criticized Gov. Sununu's positions, and talked up what she achieved as a state senator.

Her latest stop was the Mine Falls hydropower dam in Nashua.

City waterways manager Madeline Mineau led Kelly and state Sen. Bette Lasky, a Nashua Democrat, across the dam's catwalks. They were trailed by an audience of two - both reporters.

Kelly and Mineau were there to talk about an energy policy issue that rarely makes national headlines: net metering. It's a state program that lets electric ratepayers generate their own power, and put it back into the grid in exchange for lower energy costs.

"Wow, it's amazing, isn't it… what it can do, the power of water," Kelly said to Mineau as they looked over the dam.

Kelly was the architect of New Hampshire's original net metering law -- which places like Nashua hoped would expand, under a bill that saw bipartisan support this legislative session.

Sununu vetoed that bill, but the legislature may try to override the veto.

For now, Molly Kelly is making the most it.

"Chris Sununu is blocking job creation, hurting businesses and municipalities... and stunting the growth of expanding this industry that has benefited from my original net metering piece of legislation," she said at a podium set up in front of the dam.

Kelly also blames Sununu for New Hampshire's electric costs, which are perennially high for consumers.

It's just not clear yet if those consumers are listening.