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Kevin Landrigan's Granite Status: Dems are energized by primary turnout

September 12. 2018 11:00PM

Secretary of State Bill Gardner was right about one big thing — New Hampshire Democrats were energized.

The official numbers will likely not come out until the end of business today, but the Democratic turnout Tuesday clearly blew away the all-time record for a state primary in any year, presidential or midterm.

That’s really saying something.

The current record of just over 91,000 was set when three well-known Democrats ran for an open governor’s seat in 1992 and income-tax advocate Arnie Arnesen won over former party chairman Ned Helms and ex-congressman Norm D’Amours.

The official numbers will be higher, but unofficially there were 121,262 Democratic ballots cast in the race for governor.

Gardner had forecast that 90,000 would show up, which still would have been a big-time record for a midterm election.

Typically the primary turnout in a presidential year is at least 20 percent higher than in a midterm election.

In several communities the total Democratic turnout was well above the 2016 mark, with hours to spare before the polls closed Tuesday. They included Hooksett, Londonderry, Nashua, New Ipswich and Nottingham.

Also Democratic Party officials report huge turnout gains were made in the college towns.

Here are some examples:

• Hanover: 1,386 Democratic primary ballots, 43 percent over 2016;

• Keene: 2,810 cast, 72 percent over 2016;

• Plymouth: 638 cast, 67 percent over 2016;

• Durham: 1,914 ballots, 111 percent over 2016.

NextGen America and Let America Vote both share some of the credit for having mobilized young voters here since the 2016 election. Over the weekend and through Tuesday, NextGen offered rides to the polls, phone banking and turnout rallies in college towns.

The New Hampshire Young Democrats pointed to 15 election wins by their members as another solid sign of progress.

“We are sick and tired of seeing conservatives in Concord time after time make short-sighted decisions that hurt young people and our families,” said NHYD President Lucas Meyer in a statement.

On the Republican side, Gardner almost nailed the number dead-on. He guessed it would be 90,000 and the total votes in the two congressional districts totaled 88,325. This is well below the norm.

Republicans have had a turnout of more than 100,000 in the last four state primary elections.

Fortunately for the GOP, there’s some time to get energized and now that the races have been joined there should be more interest.

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What was unusual and perhaps gratifying for veteran observers about this primary election was that in three of the four marquee contested races the loser outspent the winner on television advertising by a large margin.

Both state Sen. Andy Sanborn, R-Bedford, in the 1st Congressional District and Stewart Levenson in the 2nd District race used their own personal fortunes to produce and air weeks and weeks of television ads.

Meanwhile, the men who beat them, Eddie Edwards of Dover in the 1st and state Rep. Steve Negron of Nashua in the 2nd respectively, did not have a single television commercial until the final week of the primary campaign.

The same was true and then some in the 1st District Democratic primary; by most accounts runner-up candidate Maura Sullivan of Portsmouth had eight times as many commercials as the winner, Chris Pappas of Manchester.

The only exception to this paradigm was ex-state senator Molly Kelly in the Democratic race for governor, winning handily over former Portsmouth mayor Steve Marchand.

Many thought this race would be much closer, but media advertising wasn’t the only reason it wasn’t.

The same Democrats who were turned out to vote for Chris Pappas in the 1st and U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster in the 2nd District ended up voting for Kelly.

All three had the backing of the state’s two U.S. senators, Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, and virtually the entire party establishment.

You really need only your two hands to count the number of towns — most of them tiny — that went with Marchand over Kelly.

They were Benton, Chatham, Deering, Francestown, Grantham, Greenfield, New Castle, Rumney and Stewartstown.

Kelly swept the rest.

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Coos County Democratic Chairman Ted Bosen resigned his post and quit the party Wednesday in protest of state Sen, Jeff Woodburn’s Democratic primary win, along with other grievances he had against the New Hampshire Democratic Party.

“I cannot support the state Senate nominee when he is charged with domestic abuse,” Bosen wrote in a letter to Democratic Chairman Raymond Buckley.

“I cannot participate as a member of a political organization that stood by while the victim of his abuse was publicly excoriated by other Democratic officials.”

Former Senate Democratic leader Woodburn of Whitefield defeated write-in candidate Kathleen Kelley, a former Randolph School Board member.

Woodburn ended up with 2,354 votes to 1,014 votes for Kelley, who mounted her write-in campaign less than a month before the primary.

Woodburn faces domestic-violence related misdemeanor charges.

“A month ago, I suspended my campaign to focus on clearing my name and protecting my family,” Woodburn wrote on Facebook shortly before midnight Tuesday.

“My friends in the North Country, who know me best, stood by me. Today, the people have spoken and I am grateful and humbled by their overwhelming support.”

Former BAE Systems executive David Starr of Franconia became the GOP’s choice as the candidate for this Senate seat after nobody signed up to oppose Woodburn during the filing period.

Bosen had also supported Democratic candidate for governor Marchand and wrote to Buckley that an “unqualified and incompetent” Molly Kelly was recruited by party leaders to stop him from winning.

“Kathleen Kelley ran a strong campaign, and Chairman Ray Buckley of the New Hampshire Democratic Party stands by his initial stance that state senator Jeff Woodburn should resign from office,” said Gabrielle Farrell, a Democratic Party spokesman.

Indeed the same day of Woodburn’s arrest on the charges, Buckley — along with nearly all of his Democratic colleagues in the state Senate — called on Woodburn to quit.

A few days later, Woodburn gave up his Senate leadership post but decided to stay in office and continue to seek reelection.

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The low Republican turnout also led to the defeat of several GOP members of the NH House on Tuesday and they all had one thing in common.

All six of these legislators who got beat had opposed Gov. Chris Sununu’s first priority issue in 2017, passage of a state law legalizing Right to Work.

Those who failed to win were Carolyn Gargasz of Hollis; Brenda Willis, Richard Tripp and Pat Dowling, all of Derry; John Manning of Salem and David Pierce of Goffstown.

There were two other, former House members who opposed Right to Work and failed to win Tuesday primaries. They were ex-Reps. Jim Devine of Sandown and Tom Cardon of Derry.

Others Republican moderates who lost in primaries Tuesday were Brian Stone of Northwood who supported paid family medical leave legislation, Vicki Schwaegler of Orford who supported Medicaid expansion and Dan Donovan of Deering.

Some veteran Democrats also lost in primaries Tuesday.

Safiya Wazir, a 27-year-old refugee from Afghanistan, defeated four-term Rep. Dick Patten in Concord.

And 12-term Rep. Roger Berube of Somersworth finished fourth in a race for three seats in his district that includes Rollinsford..

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The win for Pappas was likely good news for other Manchester Democrats farther down the ballot.

Pappas beat Sullivan by 5,000 votes in the Queen City and can be expected to roll up a very good number this November.

There’s his replacement as Executive Council nominee, Gray Chynoweth who won every community in the 4th District on the way to an impressive 56 percent majority over former Manchester Alderman Garth Corriveau.

State Sen. and Alderman Kevin Cavanaugh has to be happy to have Pappas and not Sullivan above his name on the ballot.

He faces ex-State Sen. David Boutin, who Cavanaugh defeated in a 2017 special election.

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The win for Edwards over Sanborn was striking given that Sanborn had the elective office experience, plus he had put $500,000 of his own money into the race.

Former GOP campaign operative Greg Moore, state director of Americans for Prosperity, put it best.

“Andy had no ground game or clearly not enough of one,” Moore said.

A review of the campaign finance reports with the Federal Election Commission confirms that Sanborn spent very little money on staff, phone banking or other get-out-the-vote activity and reserved almost all of it for paid media and mail.

With a smaller-than-average turnout on the Republican side this proved to be a losing strategy as Sanborn was spending big money to try to influence conservative voters, many of whom didn’t show up.

Geographically, Sanborn failed to open up much of a lead in the places that he won, which included Manchester (74 votes), Bedford (400), Goffstown (90) and Hooksett (180).

Conversely, Edwards won handily throughout his home Seacoast, with Dover’s 677-vote margin much bigger than Sanborn’s win in his hometown. Edwards won Rye and Portsmouth by 2-1 margins and Somersworth by a 3-1 count.

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Many noticed prior to this primary that while both Edwards and Negron had raised the most money from outside donors among the Republican candidates, the money wasn’t spent on big media.

Instead their campaign staffs and volunteers spent the summer and fall visiting all communities in the district and also rolling up straw poll victories which showed they were catching on with activists.

This was two close wins for, the political consulting firm led by Michael Biundo and Derek Defresne.

Roger Wilkins, Negron’s general consultant, should get a shout-out as well.

The 2nd District race was a fascinating case study about the power of size when you’re talking about small numbers.

Runner-up Levenson won many more towns than Negron did; unofficially he took or tied in 83 while Negron won only 40.

Third-place finisher and ex-state representative Lynne Blankenbeker won 17.

Bob Burns had one of the most impressive showings for a non-winner, taking 11 communities even though he didn’t live in the district, started in the race very late and didn’t raise any money to speak of.

Negron did it thanks to his home address.

He won Nashua over Levenson by 1,377 votes — more than three times as much as Negron won the whole district by on Tuesday.

That’s why the retired Air Force veteran Negron was out early Wednesday doing the sign wave in his hometown.

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On Friday, Charlie Cook, editor and publisher of The Cook Political Report, will be the featured speaker at Politics & Eggs at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics. Cook is also a political analyst for the National Group and NBC News.

He’ll no doubt be asked about his new designations for the two congressional district seats that he posted after Tuesday’s results.

Cook moved the 2nd Congressional District seat to “Solid D” and the 1st District race to “likely D.”

This event starts at 8 a.m.

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On Wednesday in Boston, longtime Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley abruptly announced he was not only seeking re-election after 16 years on the job, but was stepping down early before his term runs out.

The New Hampshire angle here is he leaves to join the Boston law firm of Mintz Levin and ML Strategies, the same legal/lobbying outfit that took on former Republican U.S. Rep. Frank Guinta after he lost his seat in 2016 to Carol Shea-Porter.

The move means Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker gets to pick a replacement who will serve the balance of the year.

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