N.H. Democrats Face Off for Nomination

  • Democratic candidate for New Hampshire governor Molly Kelly, of Harrisville, N.H., visits the site of a planned solar installation at the Hanover, N.H., municipal water facility Tuesday, July 31, 2018. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

  • Democratic gubernatorial candidate Steve Marchand proposes changes to New Hampshire's gun laws during a news conference at Lebanon City Hall in Lebanon, N.H., on Feb. 27, 2018. Marchand proposed universal background checks to include private gun sales, a ban on “military-style semi-automatic weapons,” and empowering local communities to ban guns on school grounds. (Valley News - Carly Geraci) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News photographs — Carly Geraci (left); James M. Patterson (right)

  • —Maggie Cassidy

Valley News Correspondent
Published: 8/3/2018 11:56:33 PM
Modified: 8/3/2018 11:56:41 PM

Exeter, n.h. — With just over five weeks to go until primary day in New Hampshire, the race for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination is clearly coming into focus.

Former state Sen. Molly Kelly, the 68-year-old Harrisville resident who represented Keene and the Monadnock region for a decade in the state Senate, repeatedly highlights her Statehouse record.

“I will continue to talk about my record because I’m proud of my record,” she said on Wednesday at a gubernatorial forum in Exeter.

Minutes later, emphasizing her record on the issue of education, she declared that “education has been my priority. When I was in the Senate it was my priority. It will be as governor.”

Kelly launched her campaign for governor in April, a year after Steve Marchand jumped into the race. Since then he’s tirelessly crisscrossed the state, hitting just about every local party meeting and house party along the way.

The former Portsmouth mayor is making his second straight bid for the corner office. He entered the 2016 campaign late in the game, and his fundraising was meager, but he still came in a surprise but distant second to then-Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern in the three-candidate Democratic primary field.

While Kelly enjoys the backing of many of the top Democrats in the Legislature and the party establishment in the 2018 contest, the 44-year-old Marchand is running as the Concord outsider.

“I think anybody who believes that having lots of experience in Concord in this environment is an asset has not spent as much time talking to people around New Hampshire as I have,” Marchand said in an interview earlier this year.

Marchand has produced numerous policy proposals on such issues as gun violence, women’s reproductive rights, education reform and college affordability, and most recently renewable energy.

Kelly describes herself as a doer, and in recent days indirectly labeled Marchand a talker.

“My experience is not just talking about the issues that I think are important or talking about what I think might be a good idea but I’ve actually made bills happen and pass into law,” she said on Wednesday. “We can’t just talk about issues, we need to implement them.”

But Marchand pointed to his years as a city councilor and mayor in Portsmouth, arguing that “I was definitely willing to lead from the front as a local elected official. Again, most of this even before Molly was in the state Senate.”

Marchand’s message is one of an unapologetic liberal.

“We are not going to get where we want to go by persuading Republican and moderate voters and swing voters” he said at a forum in Nashua on Monday when asked how to increase bipartisan cooperation in the Statehouse.

“We’ve got to make the argument. We’ve got to do it forcefully. We’ve got to do it thoughtfully. We’ve got to have vision, we’ve got to have confidence. We’ve got to have courage. And if we do that, we get to replace them,” he added.

Kelly made the case for bipartisan agreement, saying “there are ways to get things done together and that’s possible ... the governor leads the way. I can do that. I’ve been there and I’ve done it.”

And she urged “treating people with dignity and respect,” adding that “Democrats are a party of caring people and don’t forget it and be proud of it.”

Kelly also questioned Marchand’s progressive credentials.

Before running for governor in 2016 and again this time around on a very liberal platform, earlier this decade Marchand was the state director for the centrist No Labels organization.

“Being bold and being progressive is not new to me. I have been fighting for these issues every single day of my life,” Kelly said at both of this past week’s forums in a thinly veiled jab at her rival.

The two candidates agree on many of the same issues. The both opposed the controversial Northern Pass hydroelectric energy transmission lines proposal. And both say they’ll push to increase renewable energy in New Hampshire, although Marchand specifically calls for reaching 50 percent renewable energy by 2030. They both vow to reduce gun violence and fight the state’s devastating opioid epidemic. And both candidates call for the legalization, regulation, and taxation of recreational marijuana.

The two also agree that New Hampshire needs a full-service VA hospital to treat the state’s veterans. In discussing the issue, Kelly said she would work closely with the state’s congressional delegation and highlighted that she’s been endorsed by U.S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan and Rep. Annie Kuster in the state’s Second Congressional District.

On making New Hampshire’s colleges and universities more affordable, Kelly proposed a freeze on tuition. Marchand said her proposal doesn’t go far enough and he pitched a debt-free plan for higher education.

While there are disagreements, they agree when it comes to Republican Gov. Chris Sununu. Both have targeted the state’s first GOP governor in a dozen years over his recent signing into law of a voter eligibility bill that Democrats describe as a voter suppression measure. And both criticized the governor’s vetoes of two bills that would have aided the renewable energy industry.

The winner of the Sept. 11 primary will face off against Sununu, 43, in November’s election.

“We must defeat and unseat Chris Sununu,” Kelly told the crowds at the forums.

And Marchand urged Democratic voters to “give me a chance to get on that stage” in the general election with Sununu.

Paul Steinhauser can be reached at psteinhauser@nh1.com.

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