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What N.H. Primary Results Say Moving Into The 2020 General Election

Annie Ropeik / NHPR
Polls at Oyster River High School in Durham, N.H.

Tuesday's primary results brough clarity to November's general election lineup. Key races for New Hampshire governor, U.S. Senate, and the state's two congressional districts now have official nominees.

Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley spoke with NHPR's Senior Political Reporter Josh Rogers about the results.

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Rick Ganley: So the big question after any Election Day is ... any surprises in these results?

Josh Rogers: Well, I'd say nothing big at the top. If we want to start with the race that seemed to be most up for grabs heading into last night, the Democratic contest for governor. Dan Feltes, state senator from Concord, declared victory there around 11 p.m. last night. And, you know, that race was expected to be close between he and Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky, and it was. Votes are still being counted. But Feltes is certainly confident he's going to eke this out. Two progressives running, differences, of course, on the broad based tax pledge. Feltes embraced it. Andru Volinsky rejected it, and somewhat in style.

If you look at how the results went last night, Feltes did well around Concord, where both men live, and he certainly performed solidly where there are a lot of votes in the southern tier, and was quite relieved to pull this out last night. He was also quick to turn his attention towards Gov. Sununu. And we got a taste of what we'll hear from here until November. I mean, Feltes has been going after Sununu for some time. And the argument there from Feltes is that Sununu is allied with President Trump. Last night, he said Sununu "smiles to your face, but will hug the president and Vice President Pence behind your back." He also talked about bills the governor has vetoed that, according to Feltes, make him a roadblock towards progress for working people. Feltes does have a steep test. Gov. Sununu has more money. He's polled well. Democrats think that they have a chance, but we'll see.

Live Blog: State Primary Results, Feltes Wins Democratic Nomination for Governor

Rick Ganley: So that is the governor's race. The other statewide contest was for U.S. Senate. Republicans chose Corky Messner yesterday.

Josh Rogers: Yes, Republicans did choose Messner over retired Brig. Gen. Don Bolduc. But essentially before that, President Trump chose Messner, and it's hard to say for certain what that meant, but it seems safe to say that that helped Messner, who is originally from Denver and has been a seasonal resident of the state, but really only moved here in the last year or so full time. Messner did face Don Bolduc, a retired general with a deep New Hampshire ties. Messner himself, you know, wasn't terribly well known in the state before getting in the race. But the President's endorsement helped and significant personal spending probably did too.

And Messner ran on a fairly generic campaign, mostly focused on Jeanne Shaheen through the primary. His best shot going forward seems to be trying to paint her as a career politician, which he's been doing for some time. And, you know, Jeanne Shaheen is a tested campaigner. She's only lost one race in all the campaigns she's run here. That was against John E. Sununu back in 2002. Voters here know her. Messner, he's much less tested, and he's going to be getting a lot of scrutiny from a polished political organization of Shaheen, as well as from national Democratic groups who want to protect her seat. You know, one big question is, how much money does Messner have to spend of his own, and how much is he willing to spend? There's no doubt that national Democrats will spend lots to protect Shaheen if it seems that she needs protecting. And she does have a record of defeating newly arrived Granite Staters. Think of Scott Brown back in 2014.

Rick Ganley: And now, Josh, what about the congressional races? Both seats are currently held by Democrats. How did the Republican primaries turn out?

Josh Rogers: Well, congressional district one is probably the more interesting race. The two candidates were both named Matt. The winner, Matt Mowers, like Messner, was you know, really fairly unknown to most voters at the start of the campaign, and like Messner was endorsed by President Trump. He has ties to President Trump. He worked on his campaign.

And he defeated Matt Mayberry, a former GOP state vice chairman. And Mowers moved to the state in 2014. He'd been a Chris Christie political aide, and he worked for the Republican Party and really was here to lay the groundwork for what was Christie's 2016 campaign. And in Matt Mayberry, he defeated somebody who has long time grassroots activism as a Republican. He was a local officeholder in Dover and well-known among party faithfuls, someone who is willing to volunteer on a campaign, lend a hand. And Mayberry tried to run a race saying I'm the local guy you know versus the carpetbagger. And that really didn't work. The Trump endorsement almost certainly helped Mowers yesterday.

And now in the general, he's obviously going to face Chris Pappas, who's in his first term. CD1  is one of the most competitive districts in the country. It was one that Trump won in 2016. It has bounced back and forth between Republicans and Democrats for about a decade. And, you know, national Democrats think Pappas has the ability to hold the seat, and that Mowers connections to New Hampshire, or lack thereof, are certainly going to get teased out. And on Mowers part, you can expect him to really try to nationalize this campaign, talking about things like Nancy Pelosi, unrest in the cities across the country as a way to paint Pappas as distant from his district, which will be interesting to watch.

You know, Pappas rose steadily through state and local politics. He was a state representative. He was an executive councilor, county treasurer. Now he's in Congress. And, you know, he also comes from a family with a real strong business ties out of Manchester where they own the Puritan Backroom. So, you know, this is a race that's going to get attention locally and nationally.

Rick Ganley: And in the 2nd District?

Josh Rogers: Well, Steve Negron once again won the Republican primary, and, once again, he'll be facing Democrat Annie Kuster in November. Republicans acknowledge that the second congressional district is really a tough seat in this day and age for their party to win. Democrats have now held it for a decade. Kuster's got a big cash advantage. And she's served in Congress with, I think you could say little fanfare, but has figured out how to hold the seat, raise money, pick your spots in terms of legislative priorities for her. There's been some veterans issues, addiction and recovery, agricultural policy. And like Mowers, Negron's best hope would seem to be to try to nationalize this race and try to tap into whatever anti-incumbent sentiment may be out there.

Rick Ganley: Okay, those are the big races, Josh. What else stuck out for you as noteworthy last night?

Josh Rogers: Well, there were some down ballot races that really kind of settled things last night. Executive Council District 2, which is an open seat due to Andru Volinsky's run for governor. And that district's really been gerrymandered to make it safe for Democrats. Cinde Warmington won that six-way race.

And another situation that's similar is the seat that was vacated in the state Senate when Dan Feltes decided to run for governor. The Senate district representing the Concord area, Hopkinton and Warner. It pitted longtime lawmaker Candace Bouchard of Concord, former Congressman Paul Hodes, and a newcomer, Becky Whitley, who's known around the state house for activism on issues and her work as a lawyer. You know, Becky Whitley won that seat and she's all but certain to be elected in November. So that'll be a new member of the Senate, Becky Whitley.

Josh has worked at NHPR since 2000.
For many radio listeners throughout New Hampshire, Rick Ganley is the first voice they hear each weekday morning, bringing them up to speed on news developments overnight and starting their day off with the latest information.
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