New Hampshire Primary

The State of New Hampshire.

The State of New Hampshire

On September 13, 2016, New Hampshire held its down ballot (i.e. all offices besides the presidency) primaries. The primary was marked by low turnout, especially on the Democratic side, which only had a competitive gubernatorial primary. Furthermore, the Republican primaries were notable for some extremely close results. The Review breaks it down for those unaware that New Hampshire even held primaries recently.

U.S. Senate

Incumbent Senator Kelly Ayotte easily beat back a challenge from former state senator Jim Rubens. Rubens, who also ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate in 2014, ran on a platform that was essentially a mix of Trumpian populism, libertarianism, and conservatism. He spent very little money on the race and failed to gain traction. Other credible primary challengers, such as former State House Speaker Bill O’Brien, had chosen not to run.

With the primaries behind us, Ayotte will face off against Democratic Governor Maggie Hassan in what is expected to be one of the most competitive Senate races of the year. In particular, Ayotte faces headwinds with libertarians and conservatives, who are deeply dissatisfied with her. Her support for liberal polices such as President Obama’s EPA regulations, violating the Second Amendment rights of those on the terrorism watch list, and the Gang of Eight amnesty bill have drawn the ire of many on the right. In general, her record has moved from being one of the most conservative to being the third most liberal, behind only Mark Kirk of Illinois and Susan Collins of Maine, in a few short years. Libertarian Aaron Day, who is running as an independent, will be on the ballot in November for the express purpose of taking votes away from Ayotte and ensuring that she loses.

U.S. House of Representatives

In NH-2, the district that includes Hanover, former state representative Jim Lawrence easily defeated a bevy of challengers that included State House Majority Leader Jack Flanagan, Walter Kelly, birther theorist Andy Martin, and controversial state representative Eric Estevez. Lawrence ran as a consistent comparison to the more moderate Flanagan. He is also notable for being the first African American to run for Congress in New Hampshire. Lawrence, who lost to state representative Marilinda Garcia in the 2014 Republican primary, will face off against incumbent Annie Kuster. Given presidential year turnout and the Democratic-lean of the district (Cook PVI: D+3), Kuster is expected to win.

In NH-1, incumbent Representative Frank Guinta won a squeaker of a primary against challenger Rich Ashooh. The race was too close to call on primary night and was only called the following morning, with Guinta winning by less than 1000 votes. Guinta faced such a strong primary challenge because of a recent campaign finance scandal, in which Guinta received more than $350,000 in illegal donations from his parents. Guinta claimed that his parents were simply repaying a loan. However, his own mother contradicted this narrative, which must have been a rather embarrassing turn of affairs. As a result of the scandal, numerous high-ranking Republicans from around the state, including Ayotte, have for his resignation. Guinta remains an underdog and will face off against former Representative Carol Shea-Porter in the general election for the fourth time. (Since 2010, the seat has traded between Guinta and Shea-Porter every two years.)

Gubernatorial

The open primary featured a crowded field with four Republicans and three Democrats. Executive Councilor Chris Sununu barely edged State Representative Frank Edelblut, a venture capitalist and entrepreneur, in the Republican primary. Sununu, a scion of the state’s most prominent dynasty, was favored to win and trained his fire on Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas while ignoring Edelblut. State senator Jeanie Forrester also ran but failed to gain traction. What sparse polling there was before the primary did not anticipate Edelblut’s extremely strong showing.

While the media and his competition ignored him, Edelblut was running a serious and disciplined campaign with an effective social media operation and get-out-the-vote effort. He mostly self-funded, donating $750,000 to his campaign, although he did not spend the entire sum. His outreach to the conservative and libertarian base paid off as he gained increasing momentum with the grassroots support over the course of his dark horse campaign.

He won the endorsements of numerous conservative and libertarian organizations such as the New Hampshire Liberty Alliance, the 603 Alliance, the New Hampshire Conservative Majority Project, and New Hampshire Right to Life. The New Hampshire Firearms Coalition gave Edelblut an A+ while Americans for Prosperity gave his voting record a 100% rating. Furthermore, he won the endorsement of 60 of his colleagues in the State House.

On election night, Edelblut and Sununu traded the lead throughout the night, with neither leading by more than a few hundred votes at any time. Commentators were astounded as a nameless state representative with almost no name recognition ran neck-and-neck with someone with the most famous name in the state. As precincts continued reporting, it was clear that the election would not be decided that night. The reporting ran so late into the night that Edelblut and his supporters were kicked of their watch party by the host. Late the next morning, Sununu eventually defeated Edelblut by less than 1000 votes, and Edelblut declined to call for a recount while emphatically endorsing Sununu.

On the Democratic side, the contenders were Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern, former Portsmouth mayor Steve Marchand, and former state head of securities regulation Mark Connolly. Connolly is most notable for making the re-recognition of Alpha Delta fraternity a part of his campaign platform. Alas, the support of the brothers of AD was insufficient as Van Ostern ran away with the primary, winning a majority of the votes.

Most general election polls show Sununu ahead of Van Ostern. However, the race remains close and is expected to tighten as Van Ostern gains name recognition.