Looking Ahead To the New General Court

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Garry Rayno is InDepthNH.org's State House Bureau Chief. He is pictured in the press room at the State House in Concord.


The state primary and Veto Day in the same week puts lots of things into perspective.

With Veto Day two days after the state primary election, a number of lawmakers attending Thursday’s final session of the 2021-2022 term will not be back for many reasons, including being voted out in primary.

The Legislature is bound to be different for the next two years as no two legislatures are ever alike and the turnover after each election is about one-third of the 424 member General Court.

The primary election did have some interesting trends that may change things a bit.

An intramural — as primaries are — can be like family affairs, when they are healthy, there is nothing better, but when they are not, the can become real ugly.

And a couple of the Republican primaries were really ugly at the end and had to generate some bitter feelings which was manifested by the number of major office candidates who did not appear at the GOP Unity Breakfast Thursday morning before the Legislature met.

The most striking aspect of the primary is the hold former President Donald Trump still has on a good share of Republicans.

The three winning candidates for the three federal positions, retired Gen. Donald Bolduc for US Senate, former Trump aid Karoline Leavitt for the 1st Congressional District and early Trump supporter Robert Burns in the 2nd District all touted their support and ties to the former president and two were election deniers before the election — Bolduc and Leavitt and he flip-flopped after the primary trying to move toward the center for the general election.

The winning candidates received about one-third of the votes cast election day on the GOP side. That is not to say only one-third of the Republican Party in New Hampshire supports Trump, because it is far higher than that, but that one-third is the foundational base of his support.

That means a couple of elections is not going to cleanse the Republican Party of Trumpism, it is here to stay for a while.

While the Democrats have the candidates the hierarchy wanted for those three races, as the adage goes “be careful what you wish for.”

Much can happen in the next two months beyond what is driving Democratic turnout today, the overturning of Roe vs. Wade and the numerous Trump investigations ranging from stolen federal documents to inciting a violent insurrection.

Incumbent Democrats cruised to victory in the primary saving them money and giving them time to “build the brand,” but this is not your parent’s Republican Party.

Millions and millions of dark money and traceable money from Political Action Committees is poised to try to influence these races.

Your favorite Democrat may be considered a child molester by people not paying attention to politics once the ads blanket the airwaves and social media leading up to primary day.

It is ugly out there.

On the state level, there were some interesting trends.

Only two of the five Executive Council district races had unopposed candidates for both Democrats and Republicans, District 1 with GOP incumbent Joe Kenney and Democratic challenger and Somersworth Mayor Dana Hilliard, and District 3 with incumbent Republican Janet Stevens and Democrat Katherine Harake.

The Republican incumbents in districts 4 and 5, Ted Gatsas and David Wheeler both had opponents in the primary. Both considered fiscal and social conservatives, they had challenges from the Libertarian or Free State vein of their party.

Gatsas faced Terese Grinnell, a Loudon nurse who was arrested at one Executive Council meeting protesting accepting federal money for a COVID-19 vaccination program.

And Wheeler faced former Derry Representative Anne Copp, who resigned and claimed significant voter fraud in the 2020 election, where she was elected after losing a number of attempts running from Danbury.

The gerrymandering of District 2 forced a former executive councilor to run against the incumbent councilor for the Democrats.

Incumbent Cinde Warmington easily defeated former District 1 councilor Michael Cryans.

Warmington will face state Sen. Harold French who survived a primary to win the Republican nomination.

For the Democrats, state Sen. Keven Cavanaugh ran unopposed for the District 4 nomination, while Nashua Alderman Shoshanna Kelly was unopposed for District 5.

The far-right challengers to conservative Republicans says the party may be headed more in the Free State/Libertarian direction in the future than toward the Main Street Republicans who once dominated the GOP.

The State Senate has eight open seats, the most in quite a while, with several senators running for higher office like Senate President Chuck Morse, and District 24 Sen. Tom Sherman running for governor, and French and Cavanaugh running for Executive Council.

Others just decided not to run again like District 10 Sen. Jay Kahn, and District 17 Sen. John Reagan and District 2 Sen. Bob Giuda.

And District 1 Sen. Erin Hennessey resigned several months ago to become Deputy Secretary of State.

The question is who will replace these senators.

Sherman’s and Kahn’s districts are safely Democratic, while Morse’s, Reagan’s, Cavanaugh’s, Giuda’s and French’s districts are solidly Republican.

The only toss up really is District 1, which includes most of the state from the White Mountains north.

It is safe to say that the majority of Republican candidates who won their primaries in Republican leaning seats are more conservative than the ones who are leaving and in one case “libertarian or free state” leaning.

The Democrats replacing those in Democratic leaning seats are slightly more progressive than the senators they would replace.

With the gerrymandered Senate giving Republicans from 15 to 16 safe seats most elections, the body is likely to be more conservative with more “liberty” bills making it through.

The Senate has usually been the brake on the more expansive House agenda.

The House general election will be interesting. As of today, there are 202 Republicans and 179  Democrats, which means two things, given the current political make-up, Democrats would need to flip about a dozen seats for majority control, and with 19 empty seats more like two dozen to be safe.

Beyond that, the primary election was a paradox in the House particularly for Republicans.

On one hand, Citizens for Belknap successfully targeted about half a dozen Free Stater/Libertarian House members who were the leaders of the county delegation (all 18 Belknap County House members) responsible for the shenanigans that led to the closing of Gunstock Ski and Recreation Area this summer, and also significantly reduced funding for the county nursing home and sheriff’s department.

Other organizations targeted Free State candidates running in Democratic primaries and in other races where they tried to stay below the radar.

On the other hand, pro-life forces like Cornerstone Action targeted Republicans who backed changes in the law passed last year instigating an abortion ban after 23 weeks of pregnancy that also required an invasive ultrasound, and had no exceptions except for the life of the mother.

All four of the six Republicans seeking reelection who sponsored a bill to change key provisions of the ban, were targeted and only prime sponsor Dan Wolf survived.

One group claimed more than a dozen pro-choice Republicans were defeated in the primary Tuesday.

Other house Republicans targeted  were those opposed to right-to-work legislation.

The belief going into the current session was this was the best opportunity in years to pass the union-busting, right-to-work legislation, but it fell short in the House as it always has to date.

Democrats are losing some of their key people over the last couple of terms, but have been successful in recruiting younger, more progressive candidates in areas that lean Democratic.

If all those changes hold in the general election, the next two years may be even more partisan with an expanded cultural war than witnessed the last two years.

Democrats are not going to flip the Senate nor the Executive Council in the next decade they are so gerrymandered, but the House could flip from time-to-time.

And given the candidates at the top of the ticket for the GOP this year, this may be one of those times with abortion on the ballot and the legal hellhounds on Trump’s tail.

Garry Rayno may be reached at garry.rayno@yahoo.com.

Distant Dome by veteran journalist Garry Rayno explores a broader perspective on the State House and state happenings for InDepthNH.org. Over his three-decade career, Rayno covered the NH State House for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Foster’s Daily Democrat. During his career, his coverage spanned the news spectrum, from local planning, school and select boards, to national issues such as electric industry deregulation and Presidential primaries. Rayno lives with his wife Carolyn in New London.

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