You didn’t have to look much farther than the title of the campaign’s primary night party – billed as a “general election kickoff” – to know that Colin Van Ostern’s campaign was feeling pretty good about its chances heading into Tuesday.
And by the time the results started coming in, that description ended up being on point after all.
“I am honored to be your nominee for governor in this fall’s election," Van Ostern told supporters in Manchester soon after he seized the Democratic nomination for governor with more than half of the primary vote and decisive wins in towns and cities across the state.
His rivals, Steve Marchand and Mark Connolly, earned roughly a quarter of the vote each.
Addressing supporters at his victory celebration in Manchester, Van Ostern quickly turned his attention toward the general election. He described himself as a pragmatic, mainstream Democrat, the sort that’s been successful in past gubernatorial elections.
"If you elect me as your governor in November, I will spend every day as your governor focused on good jobs and good schools and good access to healthcare and overcoming the opioid crisis and always protecting a woman’s health," Van Ostern said. "And we will do it with no sales tax and no income tax.”
Van Ostern comes to the governor’s race after two terms on the state’s executive council, plus stints in the private sector and the political world. His resume includes jobs at Stonyfield Yogurt, and Southern New Hampshire University. He also worked for years as a campaign operative for Jeanne Shaheen, John Edwards and the New Hampshire Democratic Party.
And on paper, Van Ostern came into Tuesday’s election with many of the advantages of a frontrunner: He outraised all other candidates for governor, from either party; plus he earned the support of a dozen local education and labor unions, and the Planned Parenthood New Hampshire Action Fund PAC. With those endorsements also came a significant boost in grassroots organizing.
Once the primary wrapped up, Van Ostern's rivals were quick to rally around his candidacy almost as soon as the race was called.
“I want to congratulate Colin Van Ostern tonight, and I’m proud to endorse him this evening. The ticket is lucky to have him," Mark Connolly, the former state securities regulator, told supporters at his concession speech in Manchester.
“This is not about me. It’s about you. It’s about the future of our state," Connolly added. "That’s what politics is. That’s what political engagement is."
In Portsmouth, former hometown mayor Steve Marchand was also in good spirits even as he conceded the race to Van Ostern. Like Connolly, he also made it clear he would support the party’s nominee.
“I did not think that this year I’d be running for governor of New Hampshire. But sometimes things happen," Marchand said. "And I tell you what: There is not one regret I have at all about having done this race and running as hard as we did. The issues that we’re talking about are going to keep on going after November, into November, into 2017."
At age 37, Van Ostern would, if elected, be the youngest governor New Hampshire has seen in decades. Where opponents might use that against him, supporters like Tanna Clews of Portsmouth see that as an asset.
“I’m really excited to have a relatively young governor in the Statehouse, quite frankly," Clews said. "I feel like the future of our state is going to be in the parents who are raising children today and thinking about how to afford college, how to keep our mortgage payments current, how to be able to support our families with new and innovative jobs."
As of late Tuesday, it was still unclear just who Van Ostern would face in the general election. Democrats have held the state’s corner office in nine of the last 10 elections – and party chairman Ray Buckley was feeling good about his team’s chances regardless of who they're up against.
“It’s going to be very clear that Colin represents the mainstream of New Hampshire and the Republicans are outside of that mainstream," Buckley said at Van Ostern's primary night party.
We’ll find out in November.
This post has been edited to reflect that Van Ostern was endorsed by Planned Parenthood New Hampshire Action Fund PAC.