By Jim Ellis
Sept. 15, 2016 — Tuesday night’s Granite State primary featured a pair of very close Republican races, one involving an incumbent. It is unclear if either the governor’s contest or the 1st Congressional District race will go to a re-count once the final accounting is recorded.
The Senate nominations, however, are decided. Sen. Kelly Ayotte scored a 79 percent victory in her Republican primary against former state Sen. Jim Rubens and three minor candidates. Gov. Maggie Hassan was unopposed for the Democratic Senatorial nomination. This race will go a long way to deciding which party controls the new Senate majority.
In the 1st Congressional District, before an electorate that has unseated more incumbents than any other CD during the last ten years, incumbent Rep. Frank Guinta (R-Manchester) appears to have barely won re-nomination. From a turnout that broke 55,000 voters, Guinta held just a 661 vote lead over businessman Rich Ashooh with four precincts still outstanding. The congressman’s margin was only a plurality (46 percent), as three minor candidates drew enough support to keep both leaders below the 50% majority mark.
A finish this close does not bode well for Guinta securing re-election in two months. Dogged by bad publicity surrounding a Federal Election Commission campaign finance violation involving a loan from his parents, Guinta had a difficult time developing a strong district-wide base. Failing to even attract a majority of his own party’s primary voters suggests that him facing the general electorate in such a weakened standing will favor former Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-East Rochester). But, the latter’s own campaign record is less than stellar. She not only lost the seat to Guinta in 2014, Shea-Porter also fell to him in 2010. Therefore, in the last five 1st District races, Shea-Porter’s record is 3-2, not particularly uplifting when heading into an uncertain general election. The former congresswoman was unopposed in Tuesday night’s Democratic primary.
But, the 1st District race was not the only New Hampshire contest decided by a razor-thin margin. The Republican governor’s contest was also a nail-biting affair. Executive Councilor Chris Sununu, son of former governor and White House chief of staff John Sununu (R), is in a seesaw battle with self-funding state Rep. Frank Edelblut. With 20 precincts still not counted, Sununu is holding a 31-30 percent edge, meaning a statewide margin of just 1,051 votes.
The race was predicted to be close, but the final pairing came as a surprise. While Sununu was always pegged near the top of the primary contest, it was Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas that figured to be his main opponent and not Edelblut, who was actually the first person to declare for Governor even before incumbent Maggie Hassan (D) decided to run for Senate.
Independently wealthy, Edelblut appears to have spent his money on a well-crafted message that propelled him in range of winning the nomination. Gatsas fell off the pace, finishing 10 percentage points behind the leader. State Sen. Jeanie Forrester is three points behind Mayor Gatsas.
For the Democrats, Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern scored a larger-than-expected victory in capturing over 52 percent of the vote. His next closest competitor was Portsmouth Mayor Steve Marchand (26 percent), while businessman Mark Connolly (20 percent) took third place.
Another tight general election is expected in the governor’s race as Van Ostern and Sununu, both members of the state’s unique Executive Council, appear evenly matched.
In the 2nd Congressional District, former state Rep. Jim Lawrence attracted 40 percent of the Republican primary vote, more than enough to win the western district’s party nomination against six other candidates. Lawrence will be a heavy underdog when facing two-term Rep. Annie Kuster (D-Concord) in the general election.
Turning to the open Delaware at-large seat, former state Labor Secretary Lisa Blunt Rochester easily won a spirited Democratic primary last night, defeating state Sen. Bryan Townsend, ex-gubernatorial aide Sean Barney, and three others. Rochester recorded 44 percent of the vote, 19 percentage points ahead of the second place finisher Townsend.
Republicans nominated former Wyoming Mayor Hans Reigle, who was unopposed in the GOP primary. With her substantial victory, Rochester will be the favorite heading into the general election from what has become a reliably Democratic state.
In the governor’s race, at-large Rep. John Carney (D-Wilmington) was unopposed for the Democratic nomination and the right to succeed term-limited incumbent Jack Markell (D). For the Republicans, state Sen. Colin Bonini scored a 70 percent victory over a minor GOP candidate, and he will also advance. Rep. Carney becomes the prohibitive November favorite, and will easily be elected the state’s 74th governor.
Reps. David Cicciline (D-Providence) and Jim Langevin (D-Warwick) both successfully won re-nomination against minor opponents. Though their 68 and 65 percent wins, respectively, Tuesday night were a bit less than expected, each will have an easy time securing another term against minor Republican candidates in November.