Executive Councilor may be a relatively obscure elected position, but it’s generating the most hotly-contested Republican primary in New Hampshire this year.

On Tuesday, Manchester businessman John Stephen entered the race to replace outgoing District 4 Executive Councilor Ted Gatsas, making him one of six Republicans (and counting) to announce their candidacy.

The filing period for the Sept. 10 primary doesn’t even open for another seven weeks (June 5).

Stephen told NHJournal he’s running for council because he’s concerned about the Granite State’s fiscal trajectory.

“New Hampshire’s financial situation is likely to be very different in the future,” Stephen said. “We need people on the council who will look over state contracts carefully, people who are fiscally responsible — not looking at taxpayers as piggy banks.”

For Granite State political insiders, Stephen’s decision to enter the race is the biggest news since Bob Burns — the GOP’s 2022 nominee in the Second Congressional District —  chose to pass on another run for Congress and enter the Executive Council race.

“Today, the council race got serious,” said Greg Moore, regional director of Americans For Prosperity. “With a player the caliber of John Stephen getting in, you know there are going to be real resources brought to bear. It raises the race to another level.”

Burns has run for office 10 times since 2010, including a victory over Chris Pappas in the race for Hillsborough County Treasurer and a loss to incumbent U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster (D) in 2022. He is well known among Republicans in the district as an outspoken member of the Trump wing of the party.

“I’m the strongest and most well-known candidate in this race from either party,” Burns said. “The Democrats just spent over $7 million raising my name ID. I’ve won the Executive Council nomination before and will win both the primary and general elections this year.”

Also running is Ryan Terrell, who, until recently, was serving as a member of the state Board of Education and vice chair of the state Republican Party.

Former state Sen. John Reagan (R-Deerfield) and Manchester Alderman Ross Terrio, along with anti-vaccination activist Terese Grinnell Bastarache, have also entered the race.

Bastarache received 28 percent of the vote when she challenged Gatsas in the 2022 Republican primary.

Like Burns, Stephen is also known in GOP circles for a race he lost: challenging popular Democratic Gov. John Lynch when he sought his fourth term in 2010. Polls showed Lynch with a solid double-digit lead for most of the race, but the final margin was 52-45 percent.

Critics note he’s been out of New Hampshire politics for 14 years, and the post-Trump GOP is very different from the party of the past. But supporters say his record in business and as a former commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services give him the skills needed for a serious job.

“Ted Gatsas was a friend of mine, a fellow fiscal conservative, and I always appreciated his questions, his intense scrutiny of contracts and demand for accountability,” Stephen said.

Asked about the size of the field, Reagan told NHJournal he’s “happy to see such interest in this sensitive position monitoring the spending and appointments emanating from the governor’s office.”

Reagan touted his 16 years in the state legislature — the last 10 as a senator — as the reason he’s “the best trained of the six nominees.”

Terrell said he wasn’t intimidated by the number of candidates, either.

“I know the people are ready for fresh leadership. Let the best candidate win!”