Steve Marchand is running for the Governor as a loud and unapologetic liberal. And whether the topic is guns, abortion, campaign finance or energy, the former Portsmouth mayor’s is working to ensure his stance is the most progressive in the race.
But, to see Steve Marchand as a pure liberal is to look past a long and mixed list of political affiliations.
One thing longtime observers of Marchand know is that he’s never lacked political imagination.
"He’s got lot of ideas and he doesn’t stay on, stay stuck on them. So if they get shot down, he’ll have another idea.”
That’s Jim Normand. He’s known Steve Marchand for close to 20 years. Back then, Marchand worked for the Concord Coalition, the budget and deficit watchdog formed by centrist Democrats and moderate Republicans.
Here’s Marchand speaking for the group on NHPR back in 2001:
“Our main thing now is to talk less about the long term security of social security, and a little bit more about the tougher decision we have to make this year.”
That year, Marchand made a decision of his own to enter campaign politics, first as a staffer for Jim Normand’s gubernatorial campaign.
Normand ran as a moderate. But when Normand’s campaign foundered during the primary, Marchand signed on with another Democrat, the far more liberal Mark Fernald.
Fernald won his party’s nomination before losing big to Republican Craig Benson.
Fernald ran on an implementing an income tax, and Marchand was his chief spokesman.
“Our general philosophy is that if the Craig Bensons of this world paid their fair share, the vast majority of the people in New Hampshire are going to get a tax cut and most of them a substantial one.”
Marchand next turned to city politics. He won election to Portsmouth’s city council 2003, and became mayor in 2006.
As a city leader, municipal budget reform was Marchand’s focus. But within a year, the then-32 year old had set his sights on a much bigger job, U.S. Senator.
“Unlike John Sununu, they are holding George Bush accountable, and that’s what I’ll do in the United State Senate,” Marchand said in a speech at the 2007 New Hampshire Democratic Convention.
Marchand stepped out of that race when fellow Democrat Jeanne Shaheen got in.
And as these remarks from later in 2007 show, the then-lame duck Mayor had no qualms about praising Republicans, even very conservative ones, like Mike Huckabee.
“And the thing that I like about Governor Huckabee is that I see him using faith as a way to bring people together. Not in a messianic way to say this is the chosen way to go but to say that we have a responsibility, a global responsibility of public service.”
It would be a few years before Marchand worked again directly in politics. He focused on his consulting businesses, took a job leading corporate relations at UNH, and even appeared as a TV pitchman for a housekeeping service.
“The Maids came through with a great price, fantastic quality and we’ve been with them for quite a while now, and we are very pleased with the value we get from the maids. I’m Steve, and I’m Sandy, and we love the Maids.”
Watch Steve Marchand appear in an ad for The Maids:
When Marchand did give politics another go, it wasn’t as a candidate. In 2014 he has hired as state director for No Labels, a centrist group focused on jobs, entitlement programs, the budget and energy security.
The group courted candidates across the spectrum, but drew ridicule from many Democrats when it named then-candidate Donald Trump as a “problem solver.”
Marchand spoke at the No Labels Convention in late 2015.
“If you tell the candidates, irrespective of their party affiliation, that you will only consider candidates that make this frankly level one commitment, if you can’t do this - should you really be president of the United States? We need to be able to ask them that with that kind of passion.”
The following year Marchand returned to politics as a gubernatorial candidate. One measure of how far out of favor No Labels-style centrism was by that time, was Marchand's passion for casting himself as something far different, a hardcore leftist.
"For those seekign clarity, allow me to help: I am the progressive choice for Governor. I am the only one here who voted for Bernie, this spring," Marchand told the crowd during a 2016 debate.
His critics, including the campaign of Democratic rival Molly Kelly, say voters should be skeptical of Marchand’s latest image.
Marchand himself says his politics have always been informed by progressive ideals – what else would he say – but he also doesn’t deny he’s always kept an eye on the political horizon.
At times, he’s turned to a metaphor to explain it, like in a 2016 primary debate on WMUR.
“You know the old saying, I’m a Canadian, So Wayne Gretsky would say, ‘I’m great because I skate to where the puck is going not to where the puck has been.”
Politics may or may not be like hockey. But assuming it is, a big question for Steve Marchand is even if he knows where the political puck is going, can he put it in the net.