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NH Republicans regaining control in Concord

  • N.H. Gov. Chris Sununu stands with supporters at a polling station at Windham, N.H. High School, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Windham. Sununu, a Republican, faces Democrat Dan Feltes in the gubernatorial election. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 11/4/2020 9:58:44 PM
Modified: 11/4/2020 9:58:33 PM

WEST LEBANON — New Hampshire Democrats who rode a “blue wave” to take control of the Legislature and Executive Council in 2018 saw those gains reversed during Tuesday’s election and are likely to spend the next two years facing Republican majorities in Concord.

Leaders of both parties on Wednesday predicted that control of the 400-member House and 24-member Senate would flip after Republicans saw gains in New Hampshire’s southern and rural communities, aided in part by campaign spending from conservative-leaning groups.

Democrats currently control the Senate, 14-10, and maintain a 230-157 majority in the House.

The Executive Council — where Democrats held a 3-2 edge — also appears to be headed for Republican control.

In the sprawling District 1, Executive Councilor Mike Cryans, D-Hanover, was trailing former Executive Councilor Joe Kenney, a Wakefield Republican who held the seat for five years, by almost three percentage points on Wednesday afternoon.

Kenney had 78,822 votes while Cryans received 74,002 in the district, which stretches from the Lakes Region to Canada and includes most of the Upper Valley, with 97% of precincts reporting, according to the Associated Press.

Executive Councilor Deborah Pignatelli, D-Nashua, also was in danger of losing her seat representing part of southern New Hampshire to former Executive Councilor Dave Wheeler, a Republican from Milford.

Overall, the five-member body is expected to be dominated by Republicans next year, with newcomer Cinde Warmington, of Concord, the lone Democrat.

Gov. Chris Sununu said in a statement that the victories were the result of Republicans running on a “unified ticket that put New Hampshire first.”

“I am pleased that Granite State voters rejected the DC style politics that had crept into the Statehouse these last two years, and I am excited to get to work with our new Republican majorities to deliver results for the people of this state,” he said.

However, it’s likely the Republican results were due to the “immense popularity” of Sununu who developed coattails and expended political capital to help fellow conservatives down-ballot, according to Greg Moore, New Hampshire state director for Americans for Prosperity, the conservative political advocacy group founded by one of the Koch brothers.

Sununu won 65% in his pursuit of a third term against state Sen. Dan Feltes, D-Concord, who garnered 33% and trailed the two-term governor throughout the race.

Moore also chalked the victories up to grassroots organizing and Republican attempts to recruit better candidates. Those efforts, he said, helped the GOP win Statehouse races while losing New Hampshire’s presidential vote and three congressional races.

Former Vice President Joe Biden won 52.73% of the New Hampshire vote Tuesday, leading President Donald Trump by just over seven percentage points. Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and U.S. Reps. Annie Kuster and Chris Papas, all Democrats, won reelection.

“People differentiated between the federal and the state races,” said Moore, whose group spent more than $829,612 to aid conservative candidates this year. “It’s clear that they measured the federal races via one yardstick and looked at the state races via another.”

Dean Spiliotes, a political analyst and professor at Southern New Hampshire University, also said the coattail effect might have played a role in New Hampshire’s legislative results.

“Certainly, at some level, Sununu’s victory is probably helping him picking up seats in the Legislature and potentially flipping the Executive Council as well,” he said.

But, Spiliotes added, it’s interesting that Biden’s “comfortable” win didn’t negate the governor’s popularity. It’s as though voters have “partitioned” off federal and local concerns, he said.

“They sort of had one set of concerns in thinking about the governor and the functioning of the state Legislature and a separate set of concerns about how things are going congressionally,” Spiliotes said.

While Republicans made gains throughout the state, they also picked up seats in the largely left-leaning Upper Valley.

In Grafton County, Tuesday’s election saw Wentworth Republican Beth Folsom unseat two-term Rep. Timothy Josephson, D-Canaan.

Folsom received 51.8% of the votes in Canaan, Dorchester and Wentworth to defeat Josephson, who had 48.1%.

Former Rep. David Binford, R-Bath, also received 55% support to flip the eight-town Grafton 15 floterial district in a race against North Haverhill Democrat Ed Rajsteter, who had 45%.

The seat represents Haverhill, Orford, Piermont, Bath, Benton, Easton and Warren. It is now held by Rep. Denny Ruprecht, D-Landaff, who garnered 53.4% support to win election to a neighboring district, defeating Bath Republican Wes Chapmon, who received 46.6%.

First-term Rep. Francesca Diggs, D-Rumney also was defeated, receiving 49.1% in a narrow race against Wentworth Republican Jeffrey Greeson.

Greeson garnered 50.8% support to win the seat that covers Canaan, Dorchester, Ellsworth, Rumney, Orange, Thornton, Wentworth and Groton.

State Rep. George Sykes, chairman of the Grafton County delegation, said the losses were “unfortunate” but can be expected in towns that often swing between the two parties.

“There’s a shifting back and forth in close districts,” said Sykes, D-Lebanon, adding that his party was fortunate to be in control the past two years.

There was one bright spot for Upper Valley Democrats in Tuesday’s results.

Former state Rep. Sue Gottling, D-Sunapee, received 50.9% support to win back the seat she lost in 2018 to Republican Gates Lucas, who did not run for reelection.

Her challenger, Sunapee Republican Don Bettencourt, had 49% of the vote in Sunapee and Croydon.

Meanwhile, the party makeup of state senators representing the Upper Valley went unchanged Tuesday.

Lebanon City Councilor Sue Prentiss, a Democrat, won 20,393 votes, or 66.5%, to win Senate District 5, which covers the core of the Upper Valley from Lyme to Charlestown.

She defeated Charlestown Republican Timothy O’Hearne, who had 10,293 votes.

Sen. Bob Giuda, R-Warren, received 12,658 votes, or 57.4%, to win a third term representing part of the Upper Valley and Lakes Region. He defeated Plymouth Democrat Bill Bolton, who had 9,395 votes, or 42.6%.

Sen. Ruth Ward, R-Stoddard, also held off a challenge from Sutton Democrat Jenn Alford-Teaster to win a third term representing a district that stretches from Grantham to Weare and also includes the Upper Valley towns of Newport, New London, Croydon, Springfield and Unity.

Ward won 18,326 votes, or 55.5%, to defeat Alford-Teaster’s 14,697 votes, which amounts to 44.5% of the vote.

More results for Upper Valley races can be found at www.vnews.com/charts.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.




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