Republican Jay Ruais won 11 of 12 wards and some 42 percent of the vote, easily taking the top spot in Tuesday’s primary election for Manchester mayor. The challenge now is to build a majority coalition in November’s general election when he faces off with Democrat Mayor Joyce Craig’s hand-picked successor, Kevin Cavanaugh.

Cavanaugh, 58, is a former Democratic state senator who has served on the Manchester Board of Mayor Aldermen for Ward 1 since 2015. He had the backing of both organized labor and the incumbent mayor but managed to win just 25 percent of the vote. Still, it was enough to put him in second place, sending him on to the November 7 general election.

Mayor candidate Jay Ruais talks to supporters after his first-place finish in the Manchester municipal primary on September 19, 2023.

Alderman Will Stewart came in third with about 19 percent of the vote, and Alderman June Trisciani brought up the rear with 14 percent.

Ruais, 38, did not waste any time going on offense, linking Cavanaugh to the ongoing crime and homelessness plaguing the city on the Craig administration’s watch.

“Today, the people of Manchester spoke clearly. Manchester wants to see an end to the homeless crisis and safety restored on our streets and in our neighborhoods,” Ruais said Tuesday night. “The Queen City knows that I am the only candidate in the race with a plan to address these issues.

“My opponent has served as an Alderman for eight years, yet he has done nothing to address the issues that matter most to us here in Manchester. Kevin Cavanaugh’s record speaks for itself. He is another rubber stamp for the status quo in Manchester,” Ruais added.

Mayor Joyce Craig and her endorsed candidate to replace her, Alderman Kevin Cavanaugh.

Cavanaugh, who repeatedly declined interview requests during the primary campaign, did not respond to a request for comment.

Craig took to social media to tout Cavanaugh’s success and their “same values.”

“From building more affordable housing, increasing education funding, providing property tax relief & defending a woman’s right to an abortion – I know he has the skills & vision to lead our city forward,” Craig wrote.

Manchester is a Democratic city with an active progressive community. At the same time, it had Republican mayors from 2006 to 2018, when Craig defeated incumbent Republican Ted Gatsas. Some Republicans wonder if Ruais, a relative unknown, can assemble a winning majority coalition in a city where Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump in 2020 by 56 to 42 percent.

“Jay Ruais will celebrate tonight, and he should,” veteran GOP strategist Michael Biundo posted on social media. “But as someone who has spent a lot of time around Manchester politics, the fact the Democrats got a combined majority is a cautionary tale for the GOP. Lots of work ahead if Manchester is going to move in a better direction.”

Others, like Rep. Ross Berry (R-Manchester), are more optimistic.

“Jay Ruais’ huge win in Manchester proves what we already know: Queen City residents are eager for change. Jay will prioritize public safety and work to end the homelessness crisis that has overwhelmed our downtown streets.”

Manchester Mayor candidate Jay Ruais greets supporters after his first-place finish in the municipal primary on September 19, 2023.

It is that message, “Time for a change vs. more of the same,” that has Republicans hopeful about replacing Craig — a candidate for governor in 2024 — with Ruais. They believe a young, dynamic candidate who wants to shake things up has a natural advantage against a Craig holdover who carries water for the status quo. And given the current state of crime and homelessness, it is a comparison that could overcome the Democrats’ numerical advantage.

Democrats make up 34 percent of the Queen City’s registered voters, while just under 27 percent are Republican. The largest group are unaffiliated voters (39 percent).

In his remarks Tuesday night (as reported by the Union Leader), Cavanaugh sounded more like a loyal union member than a change agent for city politics.

“Everything we talk about, it comes down to housing … if we can get affordable housing, if we can get market-rate and workforce housing, that’s going to help the situation,” Cavanaugh said. “I want to work with builders from around the city to help work with government and builders to bring more units to the market. We all need that.”

Ruais had a very different message.

“Under Kevin Cavanaugh’s leadership, we have seen crime rise, criminals released on our streets after committing violent crimes, and a homeless crisis go unaddressed. As mayor, these issues will no longer be neglected. Instead, I will tackle them head-on so we can help Manchester reach its full potential.”