First-time candidate Jay Ruais won an upset victory over establishment Democratic Alderman Kevin Cavanaugh to become the Queen City’s first Republican mayor since 2017.

Ruais’ election was a big win for Manchester residents looking for a new approach to the city’s problems of crime and homelessness and a humiliating defeat for outgoing Democrat Mayor Joyce Craig, who hopes to be her party’s gubernatorial nominee next year.

The unofficial vote totals Tuesday night had Ruais leading Cavanaugh 9,392 to 8,904, a 51-49 percent margin of victory.

Ruais, 38, has worked with Catholic Charities New Hampshire and serves in the Army National Guard. He ran an energetic, upbeat campaign that avoided partisan attacks. He offered Manchester residents a positive message after Tuesday’s victory.

“Today, the voters of Manchester spoke and affirmed our message that Manchester has a great deal of promise, and in order to reach our full potential, we must bring our city together and tackle the challenges we have. Now it is time to get to work on achieving our full potential,” Ruais said.

He also thanked Cavanaugh, calling him “a selfless servant for the city of Manchester.”

Ruais’ win was one of the few bright spots for Republicans across the country Tuesday night, and members of the Granite State GOP were quick to offer their congratulations.

“Congratulations to Jay Ruais on winning the election for mayor of Manchester!” Gov. Chris Sununu said in a statement. “People voted for strong, new leadership, and Jay will deliver. With Mayor Ruais, better and brighter days are ahead for the Queen City.”

State GOP Chair Chris Ager said the mayor’s race was “a well-fought campaign by both candidates. The real winners tonight are the people of Manchester. It’s time for a change from the failed policies of Mayor Craig.”

Republican operatives are gleeful over the collapse of Craig’s machine in her own city, believing it confirms their theory that she would be a very weak candidate in next year’s general election. “Voters don’t want a governor who’ll turn New Hampshire into Manchester,” House Majority Leader Jason Osborne (R-Auburn) said when she first entered the race.

Not surprisingly, the two Republican candidates for governor were quick to offer Ruais their congratulations.

“Today’s election results are a repudiation of the status quo in Manchester, and Jay Ruais will bring strong new leadership to City Hall. I look forward to working with Jay as governor,” Kelly Ayotte said in a statement.

“Manchester residents have spoken loud and clear, ending the era of rising crime, soaring costs, and ongoing drug epidemic,” said Chuck Morse. “Under Joyce Craig’s tenure, the vibrant city we once knew transformed into an unrecognizable place. Jay Ruais conducted a robust campaign that emphasized safer streets, economic development, and, most importantly, a commitment to listen. For a community that has cried out for help year after year without experiencing substantial change, Manchester finally has a true voice again.”

GOP strategist and longtime Manchester resident Jim Merrill was impressed by the Ruais campaign.

“Having lived in Manchester for over 20 years, I have never seen someone work so hard and so enthusiastically for every vote than Jay Ruais,” Merrill said. “From day one, Jay developed his own unique, optimistic brand and defined himself as a problem-solving outsider, laser-focused on local issues and ready to deliver needed change. His win tonight is a clear message to 2024 candidates – be bold and be yourself.”

Control of the Queen City mayor’s office has bounced between the two parties since the 1970s. The last Republican to win was incumbent Mayor Ted Gatsas in 2015. Craig defeated him two years later.

Republicans also had a good night in the Board of Aldermen election, winning a majority for the first time in at least 34 years. Thanks to Republican wins, the board will be tied 7-7, leaving Ruais as the potential tie-breaker.

“Jay ran on a positive message of change and was not afraid to reach out to Democrats and ask for their vote. That’s how you win in Manchester,” said state Rep. Ross Berry (R-Manchester). “He overperformed in the parts of the city that have been hardest hit by the biggest problems. Of note, he will be the first mayor in 15-plus years not from the North End.”

Tuesday afternoon Ruais was at the Ward 10 polling place at Parker-Varney School, and he sounded cautiously optimistic. “We knocked on 40,000 doors, as crossed that threshold yesterday,” he told NHJournal. And he made the point that the reason he was so focused on crime and homelessness wasn’t because “we had some political strategy. It was because those were the issues people were talking about at almost every door we knocked.”

Ruais was joined by some sign-holding volunteers, including high school student Ella Senecal. She cast her first-ever vote on Tuesday, for Ruais.

Senecal said she’d never been involved in politics before, but Ruais’ message connected with her.

“I just really loved how he wanted to change the city.”