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Dave Solomon's State House Dome: Hoisted on his own petard

September 15. 2018 6:02PM

State Rep. Wayne Burton, D-Durham (Courtesy)

File this one under, "Be careful what you ask for."

Democratic State Rep. Wayne Burton of Durham, one of the most aggressive advocates for college student access to the New Hampshire ballot, says he ended up a loser in the Democratic primary for his Strafford County district because of, you guessed it, college student voting.

"There's an element of being hoisted on my own petard here, and I freely admit that," said Burton as he tried to explain how he ended up in sixth place in a six-person race, with the top five going to the general election.

According to Burton, the top three vote-getters in the Durham-Madbury district in recent history have always been Janet Wall (16 terms), Judith Spang (10 terms) and Marjorie Smith (10 terms). Burton and Timothy Horrigan (five terms) have historically ranked fourth or fifth, switching back and forth over the years.

Now serving his fourth term in the House, Burton anticipated a similar outcome in last Tuesday's voting. What he didn't anticipate was the intense "get out the vote" campaign by NextGen America, the group funded by anti-Trump billionaire Tom Steyer.

With $750,000 bankroll and 37 canvassers on the ground, NextGen New Hampshire organized young voters at campuses across the state, helping to double the turnout at the polls in Durham. UNH students had one of their own to vote for and it appears they voted for him in droves.

Class of 2018 graduate Cameron Kenney interned at the State House and was encouraged to run by several Democratic state senators. "Winning tonight is a dream come true," he posted to Facebook after his primary victory, placing ahead of Horrigan for the fourth of five spots.

Burton is organizing a write-in campaign for the fall election.

"I'm a strong supporter of student voting rights, but I'm also a strong supporter of putting the best candidates in office," said Burton. "I have no problem with Cam running for office. That's his right and I love to see people involved. But I feel I have to make my case as well, and that's what I intend to do. The grassroots in Durham are very supportive of the effort."

As far as incumbents not making the cut, Burton may have one of the most colorful tales to tell, but he has a lot of company. Eleven GOP incumbent state reps and six Democrats lost their primary, although some of those losses are likely to trigger recounts.

Seventeen ousted incumbents is not a huge number in a 400-member House. Several of the primary losers were first- or second-term reps, but some veterans were squeezed out.

Among Republicans, Carolyn Gargasz of Hollis, serving her ninth term, finished fourth in a four-person race with the top two headed for the fall election. Patricia Dowling, an eight-termer from Derry, was one of three Derry incumbents who didn't make the cut, along with first-termers Brenda Willis and Richard Tripp.

On the Democratic side, Roger Berube, now in his 12th term out of Somersworth, lost to transgender rights advocate Geri Cannon. Dick Patten, in his fourth term serving Concord Ward 8, was ousted by Safiya Wazir, a 27-year-old refugee from Afghanistan.

What this all means is anyone's guess.

Some conservatives like Greg Moore, with Americans for Prosperity, see a trend.

"The Republican representatives who lost their seats were beaten by more conservative challengers, who specifically used their incumbents' records on issues like Right to Work, paid family medical leave and Medicaid expansion, where these representatives were out of step with the conservative base," he said. "None of the incumbents who lost would be described as conservative. Among the Democrats who lost, most were more moderate than their party's base."

Zandra Rice Hawkins, executive director with Granite State Progress, sees less of a pattern.

"On the Republican side, it was a mixed record. There were a lot of situations that were unique to each district. In Derry, a few Right to Work opponents lost and others were the top vote-getters," she said. "As for the Democrats, it appears that those with more name recognition and ground game won. This was a trend up and down the ballot. There were also a lot of new candidates who ran strong campaigns this year, in particular those recruited and trained by the NH Young Democrats."

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