When New Hampshire’s Democratic candidates for governor gathered for a forum at Exeter Town Hall Sunday afternoon, the top topics were affordable housing, abortion rights, climate change, Education Freedom Accounts, and Republican gubernatorial candidate Kelly Ayotte.

Left unmentioned?

Inflation, illegal immigration, anti-Israel protests roiling Granite State college campuses, and the other GOP candidate for governor, former state Senate President Chuck Morse.

The topics were selected in part by the organizers, students from New Hampshire high schools like Oyster River High, Raymond High, and Phillips Exeter Academy. But the three candidates were able to add their own topics, and it was clear they wanted to talk about Ayotte.

“We have to call Kelly Ayotte out for what she stands for,” former Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig said. “She is the most dangerous threat to New Hampshire that we have ever seen.”

And, Craig added, “We need to make sure we put forward a candidate who can beat her, and I’m telling you, I can.”

Craig, the current primary frontrunner according to the most recent polling, fielded students’ questions in front of a crowd of around 100 people, along with Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington and former Newmarket town councilor Jon Kiper.

Kiper, the least well-known of the three candidates, was the first to speak. He said his campaign is “all about housing.”

“Every year that we don’t focus on housing as Democrats, we are losing young people and that’s our base,” Kiper said.

Asked by student about laws affecting the transgender community, Kiper said he opposed any restrictions on sex-change medical procedures and called the issue a GOP “smoke screen so we don’t talk about the real issues of property taxes and housing and homelessness and opioid addiction.”

NH Democratic candidate for governor Cinde Warmington speaks at a candidate’s forum in Exeter, N.H. on May 5, 2024

Warmington was the second to speak. She took the opportunity to promote her political bona fides as the lone Democrat serving on the state’s Executive Council. Asked about updates to New Hampshire abortion laws under GOP Gov. Chris Sununu, Warmington said she has gone “toe-to-toe” with him “on the danger of his abortion ban.”

(Sununu signed a law in 2022 allowing abortion for any reason during the first six months of pregnancy, and bans them — with exceptions — after that.)

Warmington also claimed “Republicans have made it perfectly clear that they do not want to run against me.”

“In fact, when the governor was asked about this race on the radio, and asked about the Democratic primary, his answer to the question was ‘Warmington will be formidable,’” she said. “He knows that because I am the only person in New Hampshire who ever goes toe-to-toe with Gov. Sununu.

“He doesn’t go down and talk to the legislature. He only talks to the press when he wants to. But every two weeks, at that council table, there I am asking the tough questions.”

Warmington also said public education “is under assault” by Education Freedom Accounts, a New Hampshire program offering families state funding should they choose to enroll their children in a non-public school.

Warmington was later quizzed about her time in 2002 working as a lobbyist representing Purdue Pharma, producers of the opioid painkiller Oxycontin. She defended her work and said she “argued that doctors should be the ones to make the decision about what patients receive.”

Craig focused much of her remarks on her time serving as the city’s mayor and said her chief concern as

NH Democratic candidate for governor Joyce Craig speaks at a candidate’s forum in Exeter, N.H. on May 5, 2024

 governor, like Warmington and Kiper, would focus on affordable housing.

She told the roughly 100 attendees at Sunday’s town hall that Manchester “today has one of the hottest job markets in the entire country.”

She also expressed her opposition to the state’s EFA program.

“As governor, I will ensure that our public tax dollars go to our public schools and on day one,” Craig said. “I’m not opposed to parents having a choice of where they send their kids to school.

“What I don’t agree with is providing public dollars to go to private or religious schools.”

Craig later pivoted back to her experience as Manchester mayor, and her 2017 win over former Mayor Ted Gatsas.

“I also took on a very popular four-term incumbent Republican when I became mayor of Manchester, so I know what it takes to get through the tough elections,” she said. “I’ve done it, I have a roadmap, and I plan on doing it again.”

While it didn’t appear to make much impact on the audience, Kiper had a proposal that’s likely to get some attention in Concord. He wants to pay the legislature.

“What I propose is 500 bucks a week for just the six months that the legislature is in session,” Kiper said. “This will enable working class folks to run and serve as state representatives if they want to.

“It is really less than $5 million a year.”