The Hippo


May 25, 2020








Running for governor
This year’s race is wide open


New Hampshire is looking at a wide open race for governor this year, and there are intriguing primaries coming together on both sides of the political aisle.

For political analyst Dean Spiliotes, how this race materializes could be particularly interesting. Gov. John Lynch has occupied the corner office for eight years and has governed in a centrist way. Lynch has said he won’t seek reelection. He has appeal across party lines, though there has been tension the last couple years between him and conservatives in the legislature, particularly those in the state House of Representatives.

So Spiliotes wonders what the strategies will be. Will Democrats run on an argument that the right-wing legislature needs to be checked? Will Republicans align themselves ideologically with the legislature and come out against gay marriage and strongly in support of lessening gun regulations?

On the Democratic side, it looks like the race will be between two former state senators: Maggie Hassan and Jackie Cilley. Former Portsmouth mayor Steve Marchand and former attorney general Phil McLaughlin both passed on running. Former Stonyfield Yogurt CEO Gary Hirshberg has said he doubts he’ll run.

For Republicans, the field could be even more wide open. Ovide Lamontagne, a Senate candidate in the 2010 Republican primary, was first to get in and is the presumptive frontrunner. Former Cornerstone Research executive director Kevin Smith is in the mix, and Salem businessman Steve Kenda is exploring a run. Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas is mentioned a lot.

In 2010 Republicans clearly had all the momentum. It’s less clear this time around.
“It’s hard to say,” Spiliotes said. “It’s not like it was in 2010. The situation is a lot more fluid now. The nature of Republican excitement is unclear. Certainly there’s some, but it’s not like 2010. ....”


There has always been some tension between Lynch and the more progressive wing of the Democratic party. It would be difficult to characterize Lynch as particularly progressive. Sure, he signed the state’s same-sex marriage law, but he did so seemingly begrudgingly after saying repeatedly he thought marriage was between a man and woman.

Spiliotes figures Democrats would probably continue the tradition of trying to represent mainstream New Hampshire voters, though the tension between the centrist crowd and the progressive wing will probably still exist.

“I don’t know if we’re going to see more ideologically polarized campaigns,” Spiliotes said. “Democrats are going to argue that the legislature is too far to the right. … I don’t know that it’s going to be far right versus far left. Whatever Democrat can occupy the space in the middle will try to paint Republicans as extreme.”

Hassan has already signed the pledge that states she wouldn’t support any effort to institute a broad-based tax, such as an income or sales tax. If Cilley opts against taking the pledge — and she had indicated she won’t take it — Spiliotes said that could tie one hand behind her back. Refusing to take it would help her more in the primary than in the general election, but in the general election it would leave her open to attacks that she would look to raise taxes and fees.

“There’s an interesting dividing line right there,” Spiliotes said.

Hassan will probably try to argue that she is the more “electable” option.

Whoever is the Democratic nominee would be buoyed by President Barack Obama’s sudden surge of approval in New Hampshire. Recent polling had the president experiencing an 18-point swing of support here, from down 10 percentage points to up 8 points.

Cilley spent a lot of time in her announcement talking about her own past and her efforts to represent workers. A native of Berlin, Cilley probably has a considerably different story than Hassan’s in Exeter. Spiliotes sees potential for a class discussion on the Democratic side — “The working-class imagery,” Spiliotes said. “Berlin is very different from Exeter.”


“I think Ovide has always pushed very hard to be viewed as the true conservative,” Spiliotes said. “I think the question is going to be, because Kevin Smith is in there and Steve Kenda sounds like he’s going to run, and both are conservative … [the question] is how he does that in this primary. Of course, part of it is name recognition.”

Lamontagne is better-known and he’s traditionally been on good terms with people of all political stripes. He nearly emerged victorious in the Senate primary in 2010, running as the happy conservative while now-Sen. Kelly Ayotte and candidate Bill Binnie engaged in a bitter fight.

“[Lamontagne] will try to paint a vision of New Hampshire that is appealing across a spectrum of voters,” Spiliotes said. “Smith, people immediately know his work with Cornerstone, which is seen as much more conservative….”

Spiliotes sees the Republican primary as particularly interesting, with plenty of discussion on conservative principles as well as who would be best able to work with the legislature.

Spiliotes hasn’t given too much thought to the possibility of Gatsas’ entering the race, but that could surely shake things up. Gatsas is a skilled and experienced politician, and his platform as mayor of Manchester would be a strong one to run on, Spiliotes said.

Smith would be coming from an advocacy organization perspective, Kenda would be the businessman, and Lamontagne feels like the establishment candidate. Lamontagne is also a three-time loser in political contests. Gatsas currently holds office, is a former senate president and is a successful businessman. Spiliotes figured Gatsas would be able to mobilize a political operation similar to Lamontagne’s, rather than be a movement conservative.

In the next few months, Spiliotes will be watching how candidates build name recognition, fundraising operations and campaign teams.

“Who are the first people to get on board?” Spiliotes said. “That’s usually an interesting indication of how things are going.”

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