Could primary night have gone any better for Gov. Chris Sununu? The results as of Monday morning were just about perfect for the incumbent Republican.
Yes, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen had a great night as well. Not only did she crush her token primary opposition with 94 percent of the vote, GOP primary loser Gen. Don Bolduc announced early Monday morning he won’t support the party’s nominee, Corky Messner.
“I will not support a man who’s being investigated for fraud by the attorney general. NO! I will not support him. I will not disgrace my name to support a man like that,” Bolduc said. Anytime the other team is fighting each other instead of targeting you is a good day for politicians. But N.H. politicos view Shaheen’s race as all but a lock this November anyway, so Bolduc’s temper tantrum is just frosting on the incumbent senator’s cake.
Gov. Sununu appears to be in pretty good shape, too, with an approval rating around 60 percent and consistently leading both Democrats in head-to-head polling match-ups. But as a Republican in deep-blue New England, his seat is never completely safe, which makes him the big winner Tuesday night. Here’s why:
- ReOpenNH Gets Shut Down
Conservative activist Karen Testerman was a long-shot candidate, but the Granite Grok wing of the GOP was hoping to at least rough Sununu up a bit over what they believe is his mishandling of the coronavirus crisis. Instead, they weren’t able to crack double-digits among their fellow Republicans — though Testerman did manage a solid win over druggie-turned-gadfly-candidate Nobody.
- Sununu Sweeps the Endorsement Race
Like President Trump, Sununu was also 100 percent in New Hampshire’s endorsement primary. All three candidates backed by Sununu won their races: Incumbent state Sen. David Starr was defeated by Rep. Erin Hennessey; Lou Gargiulo rolled over Regina Barnes in Sen. District 24; and former state Senate GOP leader Bob Clegg was crushed by Dave Wheeler in the Executive Council District 5 race.
Sununu’s candidates would have been the front-runners in these races even without his backing, But it sends a timely message of strength within the party, and it boosts NHGOP hopes that Sununu will step up his efforts in the fight to win back the legislature in November, particularly the state senate.
- Volinsky Still Fighting for Votes
Late Tuesday night, Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky announced he was refusing to concede the race, despite trailing state Sen. Dan Feltes by 3,000 votes and with about 90 percent of the ballots counted. Decision Desk HQ called the race for Feltes Tuesday night before midnight.
“I respect the vote,” Volinsky told WMUR. “And I respect that in political campaigns, you win and you lose in public, and I’m more than prepared to deal with that. But to cheat people out of their vote being counted is wrong, so we’re going to wait.”
Setting aside his odd suggestion that ballot counting stops once a candidate concedes, every extra minute Volinsky spends fighting the election results is a minute Democrats aren’t unified against Sununu.
It’s also a good sign for Sununu that Feltes was barely able to squeak by Volinsky despite having the party establishment’s backing and wildly outspending him. It’s not exactly “Formidable Feltes” as of Wednesday morning.
- Democratic Ticket-Splitting Has Already Begun
While there are still votes to be counted as of this writing, a disturbing trend for the Democrats has already emerged: Thousands of Democratic primary voters skipped the governor’s race altogether.
With 88 percent of precincts reporting, 133,729 people voted in the Democrats’ U. S. Senate primary, nearly all of them for Sen. Shaheen. But just 124,697 cast a vote in the governor’s race. Those 9,000 voters are a reminder that Sununu’s not only overwhelmingly popular among Republicans and independents, but he’s not doing too badly among Democrats, either.
To be fair, the same is true on the GOP side as well. More than 129,000 people voted in the governor’s race, but fewer than 123,000 voted in the U.S. Senate primary. But once again, the U.S. Senate race isn’t as competitive as the governor’s content.
Many of these ticket-splitters are likely non-affiliated voters pulling party ballots to participate in down-ballot races. But a candidate who can’t get your vote when your pen is literally sitting on his name is unlikely to pick up your support later on.
All in all, it was just about an ideal night for Gov. Chris Sununu. The only way it could get better would be for Volinsky to somehow pull off a last-second upset. For Republicans, a Volinsky-led Democratic Party is a general election dream come true.