The Town of Merrimack requested a special election on Monday evening to fill the seat of the late Speaker Dick Hinch. Hinch represented the town as State Representative for 14 years and had been elected Speaker of the House on Dec. 2, just one week before his passing on Dec. 9.
The Secretary of State’s office confirmed state law dictates the special election fall on Town Meeting day, which for Merrimack is the second Tuesday in April. Governor Chris Sununu and the Executive Council must first approve the special election request. It is unclear when the request will be approved, as the current council has reportedly met for the final time, and the new council won’t be sworn-in until January 7.
Filing period for the special election will open the week following the governor and council’s approval, and any contested primary will fall on February 23, 2021.
Special elections are tough, at best, for Republicans – even in Republican towns. Representative Michael Vose (R-Epping) bested Democrat Naomi Andrews by only 74 votes in an Epping special election in October 2019. Andrews raised more than $25,000 and opened a campaign office, both nearly unheard of for State Rep races in New Hampshire.
A few months later, in March 2020, Democrat Kathleen Martins beat Republican Elliot Axelman by 39 votes in the strong Republican town of Hooksett.
In both cases, candidates had strong support from their respective state parties and multiple outside groups.
Merrimack, traditionally considered a Republican town, elected four Democrats in 2018 alongside four Republicans. This November, voters ousted three of the Democrats and sent seven Republicans and only one Democrat to Concord.
The likely pick for the Democrats, if they’re hoping to avoid a primary, is former Rep. Wendy Thomas. Thomas won in 2018 before falling short in 2020, just 91 votes away from claiming one of the eight available seats.
Last Thursday, Thomas sent a vague tweet saying “to those who are wondering – yes I am.” The town council had been scheduled to meet Thursday evening but was postponed due to snow.
On the Republican side, former Rep. Jack Balcom came in ninth in the election this year, 163 votes behind the sole Democrat victor, Rosemarie Rung, but has not announced whether he’ll seek the open seat or not.