In Senate Race's Shadow, Campaign for N.H. Governor Slowly Gearing Up

May 13, 2016

New Hampshire's U.S. Senate race is, and is likely to remain, the state political race that gets the most attention. But the race for governor, which features crowded primaries among Republicans and Democrats and no big favorite, is also starting to crank up. Senior Political Reporter Josh Rogers joins Morning Edition's Rick Ganley to talk about it.


Okay Josh, seven candidates are vying for the seat left open by Governor Maggie Hassan’s decision to challenge Senator Kelly Ayotte. It seems like a lot.

It is, but an open race for Governor in New Hampshire is pretty rare. This is just the third time in the past twenty years. And you’d have to go back to 2002 - another year, incidentally, when a senate race got most of the attention - to find a situation where neither party primary has a clear front runner.

Let’s start with the GOP. A Republican hasn’t held the corner office in more than a decade. There are four Republicans running this year; all current elected officials.

Yes. We have Chris Sununu of Newfields. He sits on the Executive Council. Frank Edelblut, a house member from Wilton is also running, as is Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas, and state Senator Jeanie Forrester of Meredith. As a group they represent several strains in the GOP.

Let’s talk about that. The Sununu name is obviously one familiar to many New Hampshire voters.

Sure. Chris Sununu’s dad was Governor and White House Chief of Staff in the first Bush administration. His brother was a Congressman and Senator. Given that, Chris Sununu, whose day job is CEO of the Waterville Valley Ski Area, has an obvious name recognition edge. Politically, he’s conservative on fiscal issues, and perhaps a bit less so on social issues. He’s pro-choice on abortion for instance, though was the swing vote that blocked a state contract with Planned Parenthood. When he got into this race, Sununu’s backers hoped he’d be seen as strong enough that he’d dissuade others from running. That obviously didn’t happen.

Ted Gatsas is also a name familiar to many who follow New Hampshire politics, and not just those who live in Manchester.

Gatsas was in the state senate for a number of years and was briefly Senate President. In Concord, he was known as a guy who liked to get involved with policy. School funding, the budget - he was a big backer of gambling. Manchester politics tend to be rough and tumble, and as mayor, Gatsas has had his fair share of friction with aldermen and the school board. He also barely eked out a reelection win last year. But Gatsas’s politics fall well within the party’s mainstream, and, since getting into the race, he’s rolled out a fundraising team full of prominent business people, a few who originally supported Sununu. So Gatsas is not likely to want for money.

And the others?

Well, Jeannie Forrester and Frank Edelblut are both a bit less well known, and both working to positioning themselves as conservatives. Forrester, who chairs the state Senate Finance committee, has been talking up her high ratings from conservative advocacy groups. She’s also casting herself as a populist, and promoted her longtime opposition to Northern Pass project as an example of her anti-establishment credentials. Forrester has also released a video of herself shooting a pink glock pistol, an tactic she also deployed during her first run for state senate.

Frank Edelbut, meanwhile, has the shortest political resume in the field – one term in the New Hampshire House - but probably has the means to self-fund his campaign, and has brought on a strategist who worked with Maine Governor Paul LePage. Edelblut made his money starting an auditing company and now is a private investor. He seems to be pitching himself as a liberty-wing Republican.

Now on the Democratic side, the field seems harder to break down on ideological lines. Do you agree?

A bit. All the candidates, Executive Councilor Colin van Ostern, former state securities regulator Mark Connolly, and former Portsmouth Mayor Steve Marchand have taken the pledge opposing broad-based taxes. All are staunch defenders of abortion rights. All believe the state should raise the minimum wage and should work to establish commuter rail.

So is it fair to see them as likely to stick pretty close the Shaheen-Lynch-Hassan political model that’s been very successful to leaders in their party.

Well they are certainly campaigning that way out of the gate. And so far, though things are very early, the Democratic race is shaping up to be one more about temperament, experience and biography.

Colin Van Ostern, who moved to New Hampshire to work on Jeanne Shaheen’s 2002 senate race as a 22 year-old and stayed on for other political jobs before working at Stonyfield Yogurt and SNHU, has the deepest ties to the progressive wing of the party.

Steve Marchand, meanwhile, has been involved with the non-partisan no labels movement. Mark Connolly, who at 60 is by far the oldest democrat running has focused on his experience, and his record pursuing enforcement actions against Wall Street banks, and companies like Tyco.

So what do you expect to be issues that will cut across both races?

Well, the opioid crisis is one. The future for Medicaid expansion is another. All the Democrats want to keep it going. Right now, the Republicans seem to be split. Forrester voted for Medicaid expansion but opposed its re-authorization. Edelblut opposes it. Chris Sununu has voted against aspects of it as a councilor but he’s also called it a good step forward. And Ted Gatsas has said he likes that the expansion has given more people insurance but says the state must work to continue to make sure its not paid for by state tax dollars. Energy issues. Not simply increasing the supply of power in New Hampshire, but the means by which to do so, is another one.

And don’t forget the top of the ticket?

It sounds like a broken record, but in presidential years what happens at the top of the ticket can play a huge role and even local races can get nationalized, but that’s the general election. Right now, it's primary voters these folks need to worry about.