Retiring U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster endorsed Colin Von Ostern Tuesday in the Democratic primary to replace her in New Hampshire’s Second Congressional district. It’s yet another sign that the former Executive Councilor is her hand-picked successor and the choice of the state Democratic Party’s establishment.

“The coronation continues,” one longtime New Hampshire political observer told NHJournal.

“I am so pleased that my good friend Colin Van Ostern has stepped up to run for Congress in New Hampshire’s Second Congressional District,” Kuster said in a statement released by the Van Ostern campaign.

“Colin has the energy, intellect, experience, and temperament to take on our biggest challenges in Congress, including saving our democracy and restoring America’s faith in government. As a member of the New Hampshire Executive Council, Colin stood up for women and families, voting to restore funding to Planned Parenthood.

“I’m proud to endorse my friend Colin Van Ostern, and I know that he will make New Hampshire proud serving in Congress.”

The reference to Planned Parenthood and standing up for women is viewed as key by Granite State campaign professionals. Van Ostern is likely to face progressive state Sen. Becky Whitley (D-Hopkinton) in the primary. Democrats are making “women’s reproductive freedoms” — aka unlimited legal abortion — the centerpiece of their federal and state campaigns.

If elected, Van Ostern would be the only straight, white male in the federal delegation.

“I’m grateful to have earned the support of hundreds of leaders across this district, from our Congresswoman Annie Kuster to many community activists and volunteers in so many towns and neighborhoods,” Van Ostern said. “Annie Kuster has been a champion for bipartisan solutions to combat the opioid crisis, bring down healthcare costs, and ensure that our veterans have the support they need. I’m excited to continue that hard work and continue to fight – as Annie has – for women’s reproductive freedoms.”

Kuster is among more than 100 Democrat endorsements listed in his press release, including former four-term Gov. John Lynch, Concord Mayor Byron Champlin, and longtime advisor to Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, Michael Vlacich.

Kuster’s early, high-profile embrace of Van Ostern, a candidate viewed as part of the state’s liberal establishment, highlights the party’s successful efforts in keeping progressive Democrats off the ballot. Avoiding ideology-based primaries helps keep the party’s more extreme positions — like support for abortion at any time during pregnancy or their votes for carbon taxes and EV mandates — out of the headlines. It also helps paper over intraparty divisions on issues like military aid for Israel or the debate over a national, socialized healthcare system.

“The political choreography of this is impressive and smart, making November tough for Republicans,” said longtime political strategist Tom Rath. “This list suggests that the Democrats will stay center-left as opposed to left-left, and that makes the GOP race even tougher, especially with Trump at the top of the ticket.”

But Granite State progressives have been grousing for years about their lack of representation in a state that socialist icon Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has carried twice in the First in the Nation presidential primary. And some New Hampshire Democrats tell NHJournal on background that Van Ostern’s lack of appeal as a candidate may make it harder for the party’s establishment to keep primary voters in line.

“I think this backfires on Van Ostern,” one Democratic operative said.

In addition to Whitley, speculation continues that Nashua native Maggie Goodlander, wife of President Joe Biden’s controversial National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, may enter the race. Goodlander is a member of the Tamposi family, a prominent name in Nashua politics. Her mother, Betty Tamposi, is close to the Bush and Sununu families and ran for Congress in the Second District as a Republican back in 1988.

On the GOP side, Lily Tang Williams, who received 25 percent of the vote in the 2022 primary, is running again.

“Meet Colin Van Ostern, endorsed by Rep. Annie Kuster. His top issue: Abortion,” Williams said in a statement. “Voters tell me their top issue is inflation — cost of everything is going up, food, energy, healthcare, taxes, thanks to Bidenomics. Democrats have lost touch with the common people; I can’t wait to debate him.

The 2022 GOP nominee, Bob Burns, has announced he’s running for the Executive Council seat being vacated by Ted Gatsas. Another 2022 candidate, Vikram Mansharamani, who ran for the GOP U.S. Senate nomination, is also widely believed to be planning to jump into the race. Hanover businessman William Hamlen is also considered likely to run.

The big question in GOP circles is whether former Keene Mayor George Hansel, who finished second in 2022’s Republican primary in the Second Congressional District, will make another run. In a WMUR interview that aired Sunday, Hansel said he was traveling to Washington, D.C., to meet with House GOP leaders and discuss the idea.