Parties’ Sights (And Big Donor Dollars) Trained on N.H. State Senate Special Election

Jul 13, 2017

July tends to be a quiet month in New Hampshire’s political calendar. That’s why candidates in the special election for the District 16 New Hampshire Senate seat are doing their best to remind voters to get to the polls later this month.

On a recent warm morning, Republican David Boutin found himself going door to door in his old Manchester neighborhood.

“Hello, Mr. Simard...how are you doing? My name is David Boutin. Do you know about the special state senate election?," Boutin asked.

"I do."

"Now you’re going to be here on July 25th?," Boutin asked.

"I am," Simard answered.

Boutin is no newcomer to this district, which includes three wards in Manchester and a handful of suburbs. He’s won election here four times before including a previous special election.

One of his goals this day is simply making sure voters will be in town on election day. He’s armed with magnets reminding voters of the July 25th date, as well as absentee ballots to hand out in case people will be away.

David Boutin shakes hands with a Manchester voter while canvassing in his old neighborhood.
Credit Paige Sutherland/NHPR

"So we are tracking right now probably somewhere around 150 that we are tracking that we absolutely know have an absentee ballot so a week, ten days out, we will call all those people and ask to make sure they actually sent it in,” Boutin said.

Related story: Rounding Up Vacationing Voters' Absentee Ballots A Challenge for Summer Special Election Campaigns

Last year Boutin decided not to run for re-election, saying he wanted to spend more time with his family.

But after the seat opened up with the death of Democratic Senator Scott McGilvray in March, Boutin decided he wanted another shot at the State House.

“Now my granddaughter will be three days after the election a year old...she’s a beautiful girl, she’s almost ready to walk. So my daughter said ‘Dad we are fine, go ahead and run.’ And of course my wife said ‘Get out of the house, you need to be doing something,’” he said, laughing.

Boutin hopes if he wins, he can return to the issues he made a priority while he was in office, including mental health and children’s rights.

His main opponent in this effort is Democrat Kevin Cavanaugh. I also joined Cavanaugh on the campaign trail last week…that time by bike.

Kevin Cavanaugh hits the streets on his bicycle - a style he also used when canvassing for his alderman position.
Credit Paige Sutherland/NHPR

Like Boutin, whenever Cavanaugh found himself face to face with voters, he made sure to just remind people there’s an election coming up.

“Hello, hi, how are you?

"Good, what can I do," one Manchester voter replied while sitting poolside.

"My name is Kevin Cavanaugh I’m running in the state special election."

"You’re Kevin Cavanaugh? Great I’m voting for you," she said.

"Great. Do you want a flyer?"

"No, I don’t need one," she said.

"Ok – July 25," Cavanaugh said before leaving.

This is Cavanaugh’s first run for state office. He was born and raised in Manchester.

He's a one term city alderman, a long-time coach, father of three and telecommunications worker, all of which Cavanaugh thinks are advantages.

“What I can bring is what I’ve dealt with for thirty-two years as a blue-collar worker in telecommunications - that we all of course want to do right by our families, do right by our kids and that is what I want to do, not just at home or at the kitchen table, not just at the little league park but also in Concord too," Cavanaugh said.

Cavanaugh’s top priority is education funding both at the local and college level. But also thinks the state needs to expand rail service and do a better job fighting the opioid crisis.

So far, Boutin and Cavanaugh have spent thousands of dollars on flyers, signs and online advertising to keep the election on voter’s minds. And outside political donors are paying attention too.

Both campaigns have received roughly $100,000 each in overall contributions.

Democratic state Senator Scott McGilvray died just a few months after being elected to the District 16 seat.
Credit Michael Brindley

UNH political scientist Andy Smith says this district is one of the most closely contested in the state. The last election was won by only 600 votes.

With Republicans currently enjoying a fourteen to nine majority in the senate, Smith says, this election would typically be more of a symbolic win for either party, but he says it could have more importance leading into the midterm elections.

“If Republicans win they’re going to say that we are taking back the seat, that the Republican party is on the move, that it shows strength within the party," Smith said.

"If Democrats win they’re going to say the same sort of thing, that they managed to keep this seat in a challenging district, in a special election where Republicans are supposed to do better.”

Libertarian Jason Dubrow is also in the race. Dubrow, of Dunbarton, is an engineer and political newcomer. He’s running on a platform of lower taxes, limited government and individual rights.

But given all the factors – and a three-way special election in a swing district in the middle of summer – this race could be anyone’s to win on July 25th.