Gubernatorial primaries in New Hampshire on Tuesday narrowed the list of potential successors to Gov. John Lynch, D-N.H., to Republican Ovide Lamontagne and Democrat Maggie Hassan, who will compete for the seat he currently holds in November.
Attorney Lamontagne defeated Kevin Smith, former state representative and executive director of Cornerstone Policy Research, to win the Republican nomination with 69 percent of the vote, according to unofficial early results. On the democratic side, former State Senator Hassan defeated opponent Jackie Cilley by a margin of approximately 20 percent to win the party’s nomination.
The Democratic gubernatorial candidates were divided during the campaign when Cilley became the only candidate to refuse the Republican-led pledge to veto any measure that would raise income taxes and sales taxes. Instead, Cilley ran a campaign focused on keeping all revenue enhancement options open for consideration.
The state is confronting the perennial problem of funding state operations, according to University of New Hampshire political science professor Andy Smith. Cilley’s refusal to take the pledge was aimed at opening avenues for revenue enhancement that would meet the state’s obligations.
Smith said turnout in primary elections tends to be low since primaries attract the “most ideological” members of each of the parties.
“The common problem you have with the primary is that [candidates] have to run to the extreme of the party during the primary but shift back to the center during the general election,” Smith said.
In New Hampshire, however, the time between the primaries and general election is shorter than in other states, making it harder for candidates to appeal to the general electorate.
According to Smith’s research at the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, New Hampshire has been undergoing a “secular realignment” toward the Democratic Party in the past 20 years that is similar to shifts experienced by other New England states since the 1940s. Smith’s study shows that Democratic affiliation in New Hampshire has increased by about three percent, even though this shift is not represented in the percentage of registered voters.
“The key for the election in November will be which party is more motivated to get their people out to vote,” Smith said. “Right now we are seeing the Republican Party is more motivated, but the campaign over the next few months both on the presidential level and governor’s race will be determined by who actually shows up.”
Recent polls on the gubernatorial race have not identified a clear leading candidate.
Leading up to the primaries, Hassan’s campaign emphasized Cilley’s record of voting with Republicans while serving as a senator on the state legislature. The campaign criticized Cilley for voting against a cap on interest rates for payday loans in 2008 and sponsoring a bill with a Republican state senator that would notify employers that they had violated labor laws before being penalized.
Matt Burgess, Hassan’s campaign manager, said that Hassan is focusing on making the New Hampshire workforce the best in the nation by improving the level of education in the state.
“Maggie is the strongest Democrat to take on the Tea Party and win,” Burgess said. “There is so much at stake in this election from women’s health care and reproductive rights to marriage equality to public schools and higher education funding.”
While serving in the state legislature, Hassan was chosen as the senate majority leader due to a record of turning “ideas into practical solutions for New Hampshire,” Burgess said.
Lamontagne’s campaign has stressed job creation and tax reform as the election’s most important issues. Lamontagne’s 26 years of private sector experience will play an important role in an election in which jobs and the economy are the focus, Lamontagne’s campaign communications director Tom Cronin said.
“It’s all about encouraging new business and encouraging entrepreneurs to come to the state and doing what we can to make sure they keep their hard earned money to reinvest into their businesses and into hiring new workers,” Cronin said.
Cronin also responded to criticism by the Hassan campaign that Lamontagne is linked to the Tea Party.
“Ovide would say that he has been a true and consistent conservative for longer than the Tea Party has been around,” he said. “Though he doesn’t consider himself part of the Tea Party, he certainly agrees with getting our government under control, shrinking the size of the government and making it more responsible to the people.”
On Tuesday, College Democrats on campus organized car rides to polling stations and distributed a campus-wide email urging all students to vote. College Democrats president Mason Cole said that while the Democratic gubernatorial contenders agreed on many issues, a number of distinct differences among the candidates made it important for Dartmouth students to vote in the primary.