MANCHESTER, N.H. — It’s officially Democrat Colin Van Ostern versus Republican Chris Sununu in the race to replace New Hampshire’s outgoing Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan.
Voters now face a choice between two relatively young executive councilors with deep political ties as well as careers in business.
On the council, a five-member body that approves gubernatorial appointments and large state contracts, the two have spared over funding for Planned Parenthood and whether to bring commuter rail from Boston into New Hampshire.
The race is likely to shape up as a referendum of sorts on the records of Hassan and previous Democratic governors, who’ve held the corner office for 18 of the past 20 years. The general election is Nov. 8.
Van Ostern is pledging to build on Hassan’s record, saying he’ll fight to make Medicaid expansion permanent and extend full-day kindergarten to every school in the state. Sununu, meanwhile, says the state needs a change in direction and a smaller government. Both pledge not to implement a sales or income tax.
“Colin Van Ostern has been nothing, literally nothing, but a rubber stamp for Maggie Hassan’s extreme left-wing agenda,” Sununu told Republicans Wednesday at the state party’s post-primary unity breakfast.
The final results come after a roller-coaster race for the GOP, with state Rep. Frank Edelblut making a surprisingly strong play for the nomination. He officially conceded Wednesday afternoon and pledged to work hard on Sununu’s behalf.
Van Ostern, meanwhile, won his three-way primary with more than 50 percent of the Democratic vote. He launched his general election campaign with a business roundtable Wednesday and will discuss his plans to fight the state’s opioid crisis on Thursday.
In a phone call Wednesday, Van Ostern promised to focus on building more renewable energy projects and lowering college costs, in addition to supporting rail and Medicaid expansion.
“(Chris) and I have sat next to each other on the council for four years, we’ve had a different vote and a different point of view on a lot of the big issues facing our state,” Van Ostern said.
Van Ostern, 37, is in his second term on the council. He’s worked for Stonyfield Yogurt and Southern New Hampshire’s College for America program, two jobs he’s highlighted in his bid for governor. He first came to New Hampshire in the early 2000s to work as a Democratic political operative, a career he continued for several years before running for office himself.
Sununu, 41, comes from one of New Hampshire’s most prominent political families. His father is former Gov. John H. Sununu, the former White House chief of staff under the elder George Bush, and his brother is former U.S. Sen. John E. Sununu. He’s in his third term on the council and serves as chief executive officer of Waterville Valley Ski Resort. He’s pitched himself as a candidate with business know-how who will shrink the size of government, improve the business climate and boost local control in education.
Sununu, who says he supports abortion rights, drew criticism over the past year for his voting record on Planned Parenthood funding, something the executive council has power over. He voted against funding for the organization last year as a controversy brewed over its fetal tissue donation program. Planned Parenthood was cleared of wrongdoing, and Sununu voted this year to restore the funding.
The switch angered his Republican base and led Democrats to paint him as a flip-flopper. Van Ostern has made women’s health funding a key part of his campaign.
This story has been corrected in the summary line to show that the winner of the GOP gubernatorial race will face Democratic primary winner Colin Van Ostern, not outgoing Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan.