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Reporter Debrief: N.H. Republicans Keep Governor Seat, Do Well Down-Ballot

Chris Sununu standing in front of signs with his name on them
Charles Krupa
Associated Press
New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu won re-election on Tuesday.

Much like Vermonters, New Hampshire voters overwhelmingly split their tickets on Election Day, returning a Republican governor to office and re-electing a Democrat to serve the state in Washington.

John Gregg is the news editor at the Valley News and the writer behind “Primary Source,” the political column at the paper for 16 years.

VPR’s Mitch Wertlieb spoke with John Gregg, and their conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity. They started by discussing the driving force behind Republican Gov. Chris Sununu’s strong re-election win.

John Gregg: There are a couple of factors. Certainly, just as in Vermont, [Sununu’s] response to the COVID-19 pandemic was sort of appreciated by most New Hampshire residents. He and Gov. Scott have been in close communication, as they have with the Massachusetts governor. The difference here is, this being New Hampshire, Sununu has not imposed quite as many mandates as Vermont has. Cities and towns like Lebanon and Hanover could have a local mask mandate, but there wasn't anything on a statewide basis.

And he also ran very strongly on economic issues, especially that old saw in New Hampshire about not raising taxes. And he also good on social media. He's a pretty relaxed guy. I once saw him make hay out of a grape leaves-making contest. So, you know, he's pretty popular in the state.

Mitch Wertlieb: He does share some similarities, too, with Gov. Phil Scott, in that they are considered fairly moderate as Republicans. Is that fair to say?

Fairly moderate. There's definitely a harder edge to Sununu, and a more partisan edge than there is with Gov. Scott. But again, that's also a difference between the states.

Now, there was some ticket splitting as Biden beat Trump in New Hampshire. How did that win for Biden in the Granite State break down?

He won 52.8% percent of the vote, which was about seven percentage points more than President Trump. Four years ago. Hillary Clinton won, but only by three-tenths of 1%.

And the difference there really was the strong showing she had in the college vote. Biden's victory here was broader. And I think it really had to do with a lot of Independents and some moderate Republicans certainly switching over to support him.

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Also, Senator Jeanne Shaheen, she beat back a challenge, and she was a winner as well.

Right, as she was being challenged by a former Colorado attorney named Corky Messner, who had bought a big vacation home in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, but had never really voted here until 2018. He spent a lot of money, but, you know, she has been a governor here.

In kind of one of those gotcha moments during the televised debate, they were asked about their favorite view along the Kancamagus highway in the White Mountains. She had a good answer. He had no clue, saying something to the effect like, “Oh, I like the views all over the state.” So, you know, it was pretty obvious.

He certainly had a lot of support from Trump folks. But she won strongly, I think, beat him by about 15-16%.

That vaguely recalls a time many years ago when an out-of-state challenger was asked how many teats there were on a cowand could not answer correctly here in Vermont.

There were some cross-border issues, I'm sure, that are of interest to Vermonters, to people in New Hampshire. I'm wondering if any of those had any effect, do you think, in the overall results here, things like the opioid epidemic or travel and quarantine restrictions between the two states, for example?

The opioid epidemic was not a big campaign issue. Again, that's also something I think Sununu has been credited with creating sort of a hub and spoke system for treatment and has been proactive on that. So I don't think that came into play as much.

One thing he has been very strongly opposing is an increase in the minimum wage. New Hampshire's minimum wage is $7.25. It's tied to the federal level, and he's vetoed efforts to raise it. And, of course, that's well below Vermont's minimum wage.

Now, frankly, no one who works or very few people who work in West Lebanon, for instance, are getting paid just the minimum wage. But it is certainly an important issue and lots of arguments for why it should be raised.

Down-ballot, John Gregg, there were some big changes for Republicans. Did they make gains?

This was a very big win for Republicans. They lost the federal seats in Congress, the incumbents held there. But it looks like Republicans are going to regain control of the Executive Council, which approves gubernatorial appointments and contracts, including Supreme Court nominees.

And it looks also like they're going to take control of the New Hampshire Senate and probably the House. That's also a big issue, not just for tax policy or gun rights, which was another thing, but also redistricting will be taking place this year or in this next two-year cycle, and that's a big issue every 10 years.

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You know, we saw record voter turnout here in Vermont, most from early voting and mail-ins. And there was high turnout in the Granite State as well, although you alluded to this a little bit earlier, not all across the state was there a big turnout. Is that right?

Yeah, it was a strong turnout. They think that's going to be a record, around 800,000 people. But in Hanover, the turnout was down from what it had been four years ago. And also in Durham, home to University of New Hampshire. It was on par with some prior years, but certainly the COVID-19 pandemic in Hanover, it was probably a factor. A lot of students, half the campus actually aren't on campus, and many of them are at home in other states.

And frankly, you know, Republicans did tweak some voting laws, which – college students in New Hampshire are still allowed to vote here. But it did change the dynamic a little bit and potentially could have discouraged a couple from voting.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or tweet Morning Edition host Mitch Wertlieb @mwertlieb.

We've closed our comments. Read about ways to get in touch here.

A graduate of NYU with a Master's Degree in journalism, Mitch has more than 20 years experience in radio news. He got his start as news director at NYU's college station, and moved on to a news director (and part-time DJ position) for commercial radio station WMVY on Martha's Vineyard. But public radio was where Mitch wanted to be and he eventually moved on to Boston where he worked for six years in a number of different capacities at member station a Senior Producer, Editor, and fill-in co-host of the nationally distributed Here and Now. Mitch has been a guest host of the national NPR sports program "Only A Game". He's also worked as an editor and producer for international news coverage with Monitor Radio in Boston.
Matt Smith worked for Vermont Public from 2017 to 2023 as managing editor and senior producer of Vermont Edition.
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