Primary Source: Sununu, Kelly Will Try to Frame the Race Differently

  • Valley News political columnist and news editor John Gregg in West Lebanon, N.H., on September 20, 2016. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Did you hear that Democrat Molly Kelly was a single mom who raised three kids?

Or that Republican Gov. Chris Sununu balanced the budget and cut taxes as the New Hampshire economy kicked into high gear?

You will — repeatedly — as the two candidates seek to win over voters and set the tone of the New Hampshire governor’s race in the next eight weeks.

Kelly, a former state senator from the Keene area, is likely to focus on education and social issues while also trying to tap into the energy of young voters who turned out in high numbers in Tuesday’s primary.

The Sununu camp, meanwhile, is likely to highlight the strong economy and try to cast a spotlight on Kelly’s voting record when she was in Concord (she also has said she would close some corporate tax loopholes favored by Sununu).

Greg Moore, the New Hampshire state director for the free-market political group Americans for Prosperity, said Republicans will want to make the race about local issues, while Democrats may try to nationalize it.

“It’s going to be an interesting election,” Moore said. “There are going to be efforts across the state to frame it one way or the other, and the person who wins that framing is ultimately the one who is going to be successful in November.”

Kelly, who turns 69 on Saturday, went to Manchester on Wednesday and pledged to advance paid family leave, which Sununu opposes.

“I will make paid family leave, as governor, a reality, because we do need to be with the people we love the most when they need us,” Kelly said at a news conference. She also plans to campaign on Sunday and Monday in New Hampshire with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, the chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, including at a Manchester roundtable on family leave.

For his part, Sununu, who turns 44 in November, continued his regular-guy public appearances on Wednesday, helping to build a children’s playground in Tilton in a T-shirt and jeans as part of the Granite United Way’s “Day of Caring.”

He laid out his campaign message in a statement on Tuesday night. “Today in New Hampshire, more people are working than ever before, wages are rising, and a family’s ZIP code no longer defines their child’s chance to succeed,” Sununu said. “I am humbled by the support, and look forward to promoting our pro-growth, pro-jobs agenda over the next 56 days.”

Democrats in the Upper Valley were pleased by the high turnout for a midterm primary. State Rep. George Sykes, D-Lebanon, voted for former Portsmouth Mayor Steve Marchand in the primary but said he will readily back Kelly.

“I’m feeling very optimistic about November for a variety of reasons,” said Sykes, who sees Kelly as a “really strong candidate.”

Lebanon Republican Karen Cervantes, the area 1 vice chairwoman for Grafton County Republicans, said she was frustrated by the bitter primary in the 1st Congressional district in which Lebanon native Andy Sanborn lost to Eddie Edwards, and also bothered that state Rep. Vicki Schwaegler, R-Orford, was challenged and defeated in a GOP primary.

Cervantes also said she was “appalled” that only 447 people took Republican ballots in Lebanon, while more than three times as many, 1,464, voted in the Democratic primary.

“That is unbelievable when you are choosing nominees. I am very frustrated by that,” said Cervantes, a supporter of John Kasich in 2016 and no fan of President Donald Trump’s.

“We’re still a very deeply divided party when it comes to Trump,” she said. A bright spot, Cervantes said, is Sununu’s job performance and high favorability numbers in polls.

“I just think it will be very hard for her to bring him down,” Cervantes said of Kelly. “Chris, I’m very happy about.”

Briefly Noted

■State Rep. Steven Negron, R-Nashua, claimed victory early Wednesday morning in the crowded GOP primary to challenge U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster, D-N.H. Negron won 11,195 votes, roughly 26 percent, but Hopkinton Republican Stewart Levenson was close behind, with 10,952 votes.

On Wednesday, Levenson’s campaign manager, Kelly Starr, said Levenson “is considering asking for a recount,” according to The Associated Press. He has until 5 p.m. on Friday to do so.

■Former state Rep. Andy Schmidt, a Democrat who represented the Grantham area before moving to New London, is seeking a House seat in Merrimack County.

Jenn Alford-Teaster, the Sutton Democrat who is challenging state Sen. Ruth Ward, R-Stoddard, in a Newport-area Senate seat, will be at a house party on Saturday at the Grantham home of state Rep. Brian Sullivan.

John P. Gregg can be reached at jgregg@vnews.com.