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Sununu Easily Wins Third Term In Corner Office, Beats Back Challenge From Feltes

Governor Chris Sununu talks to supporters in Newfields on Election Day 2020.
Dan Tuohy / NHPR
Gov. Chris Sununu greets voters at a polling place early on Election Day, Nov. 3, 2020.

Gov. Chris Sununu has won election to a third term as New Hampshire governor. The Newfields Republican called his victory a mandate on his management skills and his promise to stay faithful to core GOP principles of limited government and local control.

“This is New Hampshire: We are the gold standard,” Sununu told supporters in a Manchester hotel ballroom Tuesday evening. “Thank you to this great state. Let’s get back to work.”

Sununu easily beat back the challenge of Democrat Dan Feltes, the state Senate majority leader and former legal aid lawyer who worked to highlight his working class roots as a foil to Sununu’s membership in one of the state’s political dynasties. 

“This is not the outcome we wanted,” Feltes told supporters via a Facebook video Tuesday evening. “Certainly not the outcome we worked so hard for.”

Polling throughout the race showed Sununu with a comfortable lead, and he campaigned extensively alongside down-ballot Republican candidates – for the Legislature and the Executive Council – in the final weeks of the election. Whether that effort paid off will become clear as more results trickle in Wednesday and beyond.

On the campaign trail, Feltes worked to link Sununu to President Trump, a connection that Sununu never explicitly repudiated but avoided drawing on his own. Feltes also argued that Sununu, who vetoed a record 79 bills over the past two years, had blocked progress on Democratic priorities including lifting the minimum wage, creating a paid leave program, and passing several clean energy initiatives.

Sununu, meanwhile, took aim at Feltes’ lack of executive experience. 

Senator Dan Feltes greets supporters on Election Day.
Credit Maureen McMurray/NHPR
State Sen. Dan Feltes greet supporters late on Election Day, Nov. 3, 2020.

“He hasn’t managed anything,” Sununu said when he kicked off his general election campaign. Sununu also cast Feltes, who had pledged to veto a sales or income tax, as “an income tax architect,” citing Feltes’ signature policy, a paid leave program that would be financed by payroll deductions.

Sununu also stressed his management of the coronavirus pandemic. Pre-election polls showed more than 80 percent of voters approved of his management of the pandemic – including more than two-thirds of Democrats. Voters like Sharon Burgess, of Bow, who backed Democrats on Election Day, including Joe Biden for President, and Jeanne Shaheen for Senate, said she didn’t hesitate to also support Sununu.

“I just felt he’s a strong leader, and I think he does know New Hampshire,” Burgess said. “No one is going to represent all of us, but I felt Feltes wasn’t really a great match for us right now.”

Sununu also enjoyed overwhelming support from within his own party. Steve Miller, a self-described conservative from Merrimack, said Sununu has proven he wears well - a good trait if you’re heading into your third term. 

“He said tonight, ‘I’m normal,' and I agree with it,” Miller said.  “He just acts the way the traditional New Hampshire people want things handled.” 

Sununu will have plenty to deal with in his third term, regardless of the partisan makeup in the State House: continuing to manage the fallout from pandemic, school funding, and legislative redistricting.

Those are political challenges that would put any governor to the test.   

Josh has worked at NHPR since 2000.
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