Executive Councilor Chris Sununu and State Representative Frank Edelblut headed home last night before their tight race for the Republican nomination for governor could be called.
With 280 of 300 precincts reporting, Sununu led Edelblut by a 1 percentage point -- about a thousand votes.
By the time Sununu addressed supporters last night at the Portsmouth Country Club, it was heading towards 11:30, and the race wasn’t officially over. But with 90 percent of the vote in and Sununu in the lead, it felt -- and sounded -- like it was heading in that direction.
“It’s been great, it’s been absolutely great. I also want to thank Jeannie and Ted Gatsas they ran a great race, a spirited race. I give them a lot of credit, and obviously Frank, Frank is doing -- And someone said, boy are you surprised that Frank did so well? No, not at all, Frank has run a very good race. And I give him also of credit He’s smart he stayed on the issues. He's an incredibly positive guy.”
At Edelblut’s election night reception, the crowd certainly didn’t want the night to end. But shortly before midnight, the candidate politely called it a night.
"So they are actually going to kick us out of here, And I have to tell you something that these results are going to be coming in and it’s going to be a very late night, maybe even in the morning before we see the final results coming through. But what I call tell you is that Colin Van Ostern is not going to be out next governor."
The very fact that a little known one-term state rep remained in the fight for his party’s nomination at night's end is remarkable, and testament to the Edelblut's shrewd campaign. The Wilton businessman invested his own money on TV ads, and leveraged conservative views on issues ranging from abortion to school choice and guns into stanch support from activists groups.
Windham State Representative David Bates says every Republican running for governor presented themselves as a conservative but, "There is no question about it with Frank, and his core constituency is backing him because he is so conservative. And I think the result here tonight are reflective of a strong grass roots organization and low voter turnout."
Secretary of State Bill Gardner had predicted 126,000 Republican voters would cast ballots. And that number – it would be third highest turnout ever for a primary -- was seen as favoring better-known candidates, like Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas. By yesterday afternoon, though, Gatsas was working to boost turnout with email blasts warning, accurately, of lower participation.
But Gatsas, who had for weeks clashed with Chris Sununu on drugs, crime, and Sununu’s vote for a state contract with Planned Parenthood, finished more than 10,000 votes back.
"I know all of you folks are here and I’ve see you before and it’s been for here for victories, but you what we’ve got to be as tough in a loss as we are in the victories. I learned when I was as an athlete. You get up you play the game when it’s over you get ready to play the next one."
State Senator Jeannie Forrester, meanwhile, was next to concede.
“I am so very proud of the campaign we ran.” Forrester pitched herself as a conservative out to make state government responsive to local needs. She lacked name recognition and money Last night Forrester told a room of supporters in her hometown of Meredith that she knew she was an underdog from the start, and asked them to support the party's primary winner.
“The voters have spoken and now it’s time for Republicans to unite.”
Republicans get their first public chance to unite later this morning at the GOP’s unity breakfast In Bedford. Of course lining up behind party a nominee is easier when there is a nominee. That could happen soon.