Just days after Democrat U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster rocked New Hampshire politics by announcing her retirement, Executive Councilor Ted Gatsas did the same from the Republican side of the aisle.

“After 24 years of public service, Cassandra and I have made the decision to let the next generation take over. From my time at City Hall to my days in the state Capitol Building, it has been a great honor to serve. I am proud of all the great work that has been accomplished and as a former football player, I can honestly say I left it all on the field,” Gatsas said.

Almost immediately, word began to spread about potential GOP contenders. By the end of the day, at least four potential candidates had emerged.

Perhaps most notably, multiple sources confirmed to NHJournal that former Hillsborough County Treasurer Bob Burns will be running for the GOP nomination to replace Gatsas. This is a major development in both the Executive Council race and the Republican primary in the newly open Second Congressional District.

“The New Hampshire political world shook today,” one GOP source familiar with the Burns’ development told NHJournal.

Bob Burns

“I will fully vet every judicial nominee and ensure that they will strictly interpret the US and state Constitutions. I will review every contract and lease that comes before the Executive Council to ensure that the taxpayers are getting the best deal for quality services,” Burns said in a statement.

“Fresh voices are needed in state government and I will recommend that appointees are outside of the usual insider cliques. I will serve as an advocate and champion of the taxpayers of New Hampshire. My experience in business and my lifelong devotion to helping our state will guide me in this important job,” Burns said.

Burns, an outspoken member of the MAGA wing of the party, won the GOP congressional primary in 2022. While he lost to Kuster by 12 points, he was widely viewed as the likely favorite if he chose to run again. Burns’ decision to enter the Executive Council race instead could encourage more centrist candidates  — former Keene Mayor George Hansel and 2022 U.S. Senate candidate Vikram Mansharamani’s names are often mentioned — to enter the race.

State GOP Vice Chair Ryan Terrell publicly announced his candidacy for Executive Council on Wednesday and created a minor kerfuffle in the process. He used his official party X account to post the news , which several Republicans quickly noted is a no-no for members of the state executive committee.

Terrell told NHJournal he will formally resign his position at Tuesday’s Executive Committee meeting of the state party.

“Serving as NHGOP vice chair gave me invaluable, real-world feedback on the values of Republicans and conservatives statewide,” Terrell said. “I will combine those experiences with my professional career and term on the State Board of Education inform my campaign for Executive Council District 4.”

Terrell recently resigned from the State Board of Education where he has served the past three years. He was forced to step down after moving out of his district.

Another major GOP player looking at the race is 2010 gubernatorial candidate and former Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner John Stephen.

“I am seriously considering the Executive Council after hearing the news today about Councilor Gatsas’ decision,” Stephen told NHJournal. “Councilor Gatsas has been an unbelievably effective public servant, and New Hampshire will surely miss him.”

“I have always lived in this district and state and I do care deeply about our future and the future of my children,” Stephen added. “I want to ensure that state agencies are managing their budgets with the type of fiscal accountability and responsibility that is required under their own oaths of office.”

And then there’s state Rep. Ross Berry (R-Manchester), a major player in the House whose name was mentioned throughout the day. Berry released a personal statement regarding Gatsas’ departure.

“Sammi [Berry’s wife] and I have been part of ‘Team Ted’ since 2015,” Berry said. “My response is straightforward—we must also heed the lessons of those who came before us, and Ted is one hell of a teacher. However, he is right (as he normally is) and it is time for the next generation to step up and lead like Ted has for the last 24 years.”

One Democrat, Bedford Town Councilor Michael Strand, has announced his candidacy. On Wednesday he sent an email announcing Gatsas’ retirement and declaring, “We just went from underdog to favorite in a toss-up race that will determine the future of the Executive Council.”

Executive Councilors Ted Gatsas (left) and Dave Wheeler at a council meeting held on the campus of New England College on July 27, 2022.

And in the Democratic primary for Executive Council District 5, former state Sen. Melanie Levesque of Brookline announced Wednesday she will be running against Nashua Alderman Shoshanna Kelly for the chance to take on Republican Dave Wheeler in November.

“This is a critical time for our state and country,” Levesque said. “Armed with my legislative and business experience, I’m launching my campaign for Executive Council in District 5, so Granite State families can thrive, not just scrape by.”

Gatsas, 73, has a long record in elected office, beginning as a Manchester alderman in 1999. In 2009 he was elected mayor of Manchester, where he served for eight years. He ran unsuccessfully for the GOP gubernatorial nomination in 2016 (losing to Chris Sununu) and was elected to the Executive Council two years later.

More Republicans may yet enter the race, but two people who won’t be running are State Senate Majority Leader Sharon Carson (“Nope,” was her one-word reply to NHJournal’s inquiry) and longtime GOP operative B.J. Perry. Perry is a political veteran, a close ally of Gatsas, and he could be a strong candidate. But he immediately knocked down the notion.

“It won’t be me because I’m relocating to Texas,” Perry told NHJournal. “But it’s been an honor to have worked for Teddy for 24 years. I wrote my college applications in front of him back in 2000. He wouldn’t allow me to do any campaign work until they got done.

“He’s a second dad to me, and he will always hold a special place in my heart.”