The Hippo


May 27, 2020








A look at the governor’s race
Candidates build support; Gatsas won’t run


Surprising for some certainly, Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas took his name out of the hat last week. He won’t be running for governor this year after all.

Many had expected Gatsas to get in the mix. Manchester lawyer Ovide Lamontagne and Kevin Smith, former executive director of Cornerstone Research, are officially running, and Salem businessman Steve Kenda is exploring the possibility.

Gatsas had said last year that if he was reelected to a second term as mayor in 2011, he would serve the entire term, suggesting he wouldn’t run for governor. But he backtracked some after Lynch announced he wouldn’t run. That backtracking had many thinking he was setting up a run.

Gatsas, who said now was not the right time for him to run, would have presumably been a more moderate candidate who would have been able to put together a pretty substantial organization. But alas, he’s not running, and without him, there still appears to be room for a more moderate candidate to get in, not that that has to happen.

On the one hand, Gatsas’ opting out opens the door for someone else. But on the other hand, it could signal that GOP support is beginning to coalesce around Lamontagne.

Public Policy Polling, a North Carolina-based firm, released a poll recently that had Lamontagne garnering 36 percent of the vote and Gatsas garnering 13 percent in a match-up, according to a Union Leader article. Of course, Lamontagne has been an official candidate for some time now and Gatsas never was. Plus, Gatsas, a successful businessman prior to his time in public office, could have spent a lot of his own money in the race. Perhaps it was a crowded primary field in the 2010 Senate race, but Lamontagne didn’t fare particularly well on the fundraising front in that race. Clearly, Lamontagne is putting in the groundwork to build up a substantial network of support this time around.

But Smith is putting in the groundwork too. The former Cornerstone Research leader has his own growing list of supporters and he hired the veteran political firm Profile Strategy Group to steer his campaign.

Lynch opens the door

Gov. John Lynch, a moderate Democrat, announced last fall he wouldn’t seek a record fifth term in office, leaving Republicans with their best chance in eight years to take the state’s top office. That’s not to count Democrats out on this one, but in reality, with Lynch winning when essentially every other Democrat lost in 2010, the GOP most certainly was not optimistic about beating Lynch this year. But with Lynch retiring, optimism has grown on the Republican side.

Lamontagne has to be happy about the development that he doesn’t have to face off against Gatsas. He’s been the presumptive frontrunner for almost a year now. National publications were anointing him a kingmaker in the presidential primary last spring — of course, he ultimately opted against endorsing anyone. But nonetheless, a house party at the Lamontagnes’ was sort of a rite of passage for candidates in this presidential primary.

Lamontagne has been more or less front and center since he narrowly lost to Sen. Kelly Ayotte in the Republican primary for the Senate race in 2010. Still, Lamontagne is a three-time loser, also losing the 1996 gubernatorial race to now-Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.

Lamontagne also picked up the endorsement of state Sen. Jeb Bradley last month. Bradley had been considered a potential candidate himself for some time, though he announced he wouldn’t run prior to his endorsement.

But Gatsas represented a formidable challenge to Lamontagne’s candidacy. They could have had quite a fight over the “establishment label.” They also could have had quite a fight for Manchester supremacy, since both are Queen City residents. It could have been a three-way battle for Manchester before John Stephen, the 2010 GOP gubernatorial nominee, announced he wouldn’t run.

Kenda is still largely an unknown, but so far, all three candidates appeal to the more conservative wing of the Republican party. That’s probably why some are surprised that Gatsas isn’t running. He could have swayed closer to the center, while touting his recent accomplishments as mayor.

Reports indicated that Bill Binnie, a 2010 Senate candidate and multi-millionaire, was considering a run. Binnie could fill some moderate space, but he angered some with his negative attacks on Ayotte during his 2010 run for Senate.

The guess here is that no other major candidate gets in on the Republican side, not that you won’t hear names pop up.

Fighting for the center, at some point

Former senators Maggie Hassan and Jackie Cilley are battling it out on the Democratic side. Hassan has already signed “The Pledge” that she wouldn’t support any broad-based tax. Cilley, for her part, has indicated she won’t sign it.

In a year when it doesn’t appear as though a wave is building for either party, the fight will be even more centered on the center. If Lamontagne, Kenda and Smith duke it out for the hard right, it would presumably make it more difficult for the winner to turn around and try to pick up votes in the middle ground. Hassan probably noticed that.

How things develop on the Republican side should be interesting. Without Lynch in the race, candidates can’t focus on him. Will they focus on each other? How strongly will candidates come out in support of the GOP-led legislature? How much support candidates give to Republican legislation this session could go a long way toward defining not only the GOP primary but the general election as well.

Stay tuned.

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