Candidates learn District 1 is a big area with a 'small-town' feel
Two men have logged more than 10,000 miles driving up and down and back and forth across the top half of New Hampshire this winter.
They're running to succeed the late Ray Burton as executive councilor for District 1, with the special election Tuesday.
To the victor go the spoils, which in this case should include a new set of tires.
The Executive Council's northern-most district once only covered the peak of New Hampshire: Coos, Carroll and Grafton counties. As the state population amassed well below the notches, the boundaries of District 1 migrated south with every Census apportionment.
The candidates, Democrat Mike Cryans of Hanover and Republican Joe Kenney of Wakefield, have noticed the changes as they campaign.
"It's basically a congressional district on steriods," Kenney said.
"You start very early in the morning and you end very late at night," said Cryans, who estimates he has put 6,000 miles on his car in the past six weeks.
District 1 covers all of Coos and Grafton counties. It includes the cities of Claremont and Laconia. It reaches down to Newport, the Sullivan County seat.
It jig-saws across central New Hampshire, covering towns such as Andover, Danbury, Alton, Freedom and New Durham.
The sheer distance factor of the district only tells part of the political tale. As Cryans noted, the common thing he hears from would-be constituents: "When you go to Concord, don't forget us."
Cryans, a longtime Grafton County commissioner, has received support from Gov. Maggie Hassan and U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H. Kenney, a former state senator and state representative who was the Republican nominee for governor in 2008, has been given a boost from U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H.
Still, even as some partisan barbs fly in the final days of the campaign, the candidates say the campaign is less about politics and more about constituent service.
The Executive Council has authority over state departments' receipt and expenditure of state and federal funds, including approvals for contracts with a value of $10,000 or more.
Councilors also serve as a constitutional check on the executive, and confirm gubernatorial appointments, including judges and commissioners.
Executive councilors also play a major role in helping to manage and oversee the state's 10-year highway plan, a matter that has come up repeatedly on the campaign trail for Cryans and Kenney.
Along with economic development and jobs, fixing deteriorating roads is a priority, Kenney said.
Kenney's website underscores opposition to the Northern Pass power project. Cryans is opposed to Northern Pass, unless the project can bury the power lines, what he calls a viable alternative.
Sen. Jeff Woodburn of Dalton, a Democrat who represents state Senate District 1, said what Ray Burton knew so well was that politics in the northern part of the state is about building and maintaining relationships.
As a former intern for Burton, Woodburn described Burton as a councilor who served like an old-fashioned ward boss.
Part of it may be the smaller communities, with a tighter social fabric, Woodburn said.