By Jim Ellis
Sept. 14, 2016 — Yesterday marked the end of the congressional primary season as voters in Delaware, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island went to the polls to choose the 2016 cycle’s final House and Senate nominees.
At-large Rep. John Carney (D-Wilmington) is leaving the House to pursue the open governor’s position and little doubt remains about the outcome in the state house race. Rep. Carney was unopposed for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination and will replace term-limited Gov. Jack Markell (D) as the party standard bearer. For the GOP, Republican state senator and former state treasurer nominee Colin Bonini easily out-polled his lone opponent, minor candidate Lacey Lafferty, a retired police officer. Rep. Carney will be a heavy favorite to win the governorship in the general election.
The more interesting contest was the battle to succeed Rep. Carney as the Democratic congressional nominee. A six-candidate race culminated in victory for one contender. Former state Labor Secretary Lisa Blunt Rochester (D) was widely considered the favorite and that showed when she won by 19 points over the closest challenger.
Opposing her were state Sen. Bryan Townsend, former gubernatorial aide Sean Barney, and three minor candidates. The top three each raised well over $600,000 for the primary. Carney now faces former Wyoming (DE) Mayor Hans Reigle who is unopposed on the Republican side.
One of the white-hot Senate races and a campaign that will likely decide the body’s majority in the coming Congress was the contest between Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R) and Gov. Maggie Hassan (D). A NBC News/Wall Street Journal/ Marist College poll was just released (Sept. 6-8; 737 likely New Hampshire voters), and it projected the GOP incumbent to be holding her largest lead in months. According to those results, Sen. Ayotte was topping the Democratic governor by a 52-44 percent margin. In three previous August polls, both candidates could fare no better than a two-point edge. However, Ayotte won her race with a 79 percent majority.
Though the survey research has concentrated on the Ayotte-Hassan campaign, neither were even their official party nominees. While Gov. Hassan was unopposed for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Ayotte faced from former state Sen. Jim Rubens, ex-state Rep. Tom Alciere, and two others. Ayotte’s final 79 percentage mark is an indication of her political strength within the Republican Party.
The 1st Congressional District Republican primary featured an incumbent who could have lost re-nomination. Rep. Frank Guinta (R-Manchester), who was first elected in 2010, lost in 2012, and re-claimed the seat two years later, faced businessman Rich Ashooh, one of the opponents he defeated in the 2010 Republican primary. A campaign finance issue involving a loan from Guinta’s parents was resolved before the Federal Election Commission but that still didn’t stop many Republican leaders, including Sen. Ayotte, from calling for his resignation.
Though Ashooh was originally expected to be a strong challenger and attract much establishment Republican support, such has not materialized. This swing region has defeated more incumbents since 2006 than any district in the country.
Guinta now faces former Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-East Rochester), who won the 2006, ’08, and ’12 elections, but lost in 2010 and ’14. She returns for yet another re-match. This will be the fourth time the two have squared-off in a congressional contest. So far, Guinta has won two of three. The general election is again considered as a toss-up campaign.
With Gov. Hassan departing for the Senate campaign, a spirited gubernatorial primary in both parties was fought. Executive Councilor Chris Sununu appears to hold a slight lead on the Republican side. He is the son of former governor and White House chief of staff John Sununu, and brother of ex-US senator John E. Sununu (R). His main opponent was Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas. Following are state Sen. Jeanie Forester and self-funding state Rep. Frank Edelblut. For the Democrats, Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern and businessman Mark Connolly lead a field of five candidates. Mr. Van Ostern is a close favorite today. The general election, regardless of who is nominated in either party, will be considered a toss-up.
No major federal primary contests occurred, and House incumbents David Cicciline (D-Providence) and Jim Langevin (D-Warwick) were prohibitive favorites to win re-election, which they did.