Kenney Wins Close Race for Executive Council

Joe Kenney

Joe Kenney

Mike Cryans

Mike Cryans

WEB UPDATE: Cryans conceded to Kenney early Wednesday morning.

Hanover — Former state Sen. Joe Kenney, R-Wakefield, appeared to be holding a razor-thin lead over Hanover Democrat Michael Cryans Tuesday for the North Country seat on the Executive Council held for decades by the late Ray Burton.

But the race remained too close to call around midnight.

Kenney, a former gubernatorial candidate, benefited from name recognition and the Republican lean of the district, which runs from central New Hampshire to the Canadian border.

Cryans, a Grafton County commissioner, tried to extend his reach beyond the Upper Valley, highlighting that he grew up in Littleton and had been endorsed by Burton’s siblings.

But he was also hurt by the fact that the election was being held on Town Meeting Day, rather than a typical general election which brings more younger, Democratic voters to the polls.

“I want to thank Joe Kenney for a hard-fought race, everyone who came out to vote or volunteered on either of our campaigns, and the Burton family for their support,” Cryans said in a statement late Tuesday night. “We always knew this would be a challenging race. A Democrat has not occupied this seat in at least my lifetime. We are waiting for the last several towns to report their results, and ensure that every voter is heard.”

Hanover, which for years has produced thousands of votes even for longshot Democrats challenging the popular Burton, was not holding a Town Meeting on Tuesday, dampening turnout there. Cryans won by a landslide in Hanover, 897-90.

And the Democrat also took Lebanon, a reliably blue city, 977-395.

But Kenney won in Haverhill, the Grafton County seat and a Republican-leaning town, 361-277.

Results were mixed in Sullivan County. Cryans handily won in Grantham and Plainfield, but Kenney took the GOP-friendly towns of Sunapee and Newport, the latter by a 436-301 vote.

Most significantly, Kenney won Claremont, a hotly contested city, 516-496.

Democrats tried to rally support and get voters to the polls.

State Sen. David Pierce, D-Lebanon, sent an email to supporters around 5 p.m. saying, “With just two hours to go before polls close, we are in a dead heat with our Republican opponent. It is critical that you get out and vote for Mike Cryans. Polls close at 7:00 PM, please go now!” Pierce wrote.

Both candidates had campaigned throughout the district, and Kenney last month had held a forum in Claremont highlighting the fact that some small hospitals in the district had been left out of coverage by the insurer in New Hampshire’s new health care exchange

State Rep. Joe Osgood, a Claremont Republican backing Kenney, said turnout was low in the city, but that Kenney had made a strong effort there.

“A lot of us on the Republican side, when (someone is running), we let them know Claremont is in New Hampshire and not Vermont, and some of them take it to heart,” Osgood said.

Cryans had stayed near Berlin, N.H., Monday night with running buddy Denis Ibey of Grantham, the better to campaign in an area that he deemed crucial to his campaign, along with Laconia and Claremont.

“I was up at 3:30 in the morning and running by 4 — my usual 10 miles,” Cryans said outside the Lebanon polls late Tuesday afternoon, after working his way south during the day. “Then on the road back this way, Denis drove and I was able to nap a little.”

Voters quizzed in all three wards in Lebanon were tending toward Cryans. “I’m with Joe,” 72-year-old Air Force veteran and lifelong resident Ray Merrihew said outside the Ward 3 polls at Lebanon College.

In Ward 1, voter Ellen Gitomer said she voted for Cryans for “his stand on the issues, and the fact that members of Ray Burton’s family endorsed his candidacy. ... I always thought that Ray Burton was so attentive to and concerned with his constituents. The fact that his family felt that Mike Cryans was an apt successor made a difference to me.”

Lebanon resident Gary Engler declined to reveal how he voted, but said that he got a call from state Rep. Susan Almy, a Lebanon Democrat backing Cryans, telling him “that the race might be close.” Almy confirmed, “We did lot of calling on Saturday and Sunday. Lebanon needed its memory jogged.”

Staff Writer David Corriveau contributed to this report.