Dem. Challengers Face Incumbent GOP Governors In Lively Vermont, N.H. Races

Nov 2, 2018

There’s been a lot of coverage of the governors’ races in Massachusetts and Connecticut. But there are also lively races going on in two states to the north.

We take a look at the gubernatorial races in Vermont and New Hampshire with our public radio colleagues at VPR and NHPR. First, VPR’s Bob Kinzel.

Bob Kinzel, VPR: We have incumbent Republican Governor Phil Scott, who is seeking his second term in office. He was first elected in 2016. He’s a moderate Republican who has been very critical of President Trump. In fact, Scott made it clear two years ago he didn’t vote for President Trump.

His Democratic opponent, Christine Hallquist, is a former utility executive who is also the first transgender candidate to run for governor anywhere in the country. She hasn’t run for office before, and she surprised a lot of people by easily winning the Democratic primary back in August.

Carrie Healy, NEPR: Hallquist’s candidacy, being the first openly transgender gubernatorial nominee in the country, stole the headlines. How has the race evolved, now that we’re at the general election?

Well, it really has been a campaign of difference on issues between these two candidates.

Scott’s message is to support no tax increases for the next two years. He also wants to limit the size of state government.

Christine Hallquist says her top priority is to bring broadband to every household in the state by using the existing electric power line system. And she also says younger people will come to Vermont if the state passes a paid family leave bill, and lawmakers increase the state minimum wage to $15 an hour. And those are actually two bills that Scott vetoed in the last session.

Vermont sets itself apart from the rest of the nation with an extremely early, and long, early voting period. Is there some degree of exhaustion before we’re even getting to Tuesday?

I think campaigns tend to take a lot out of voters, but there’s such interest in early voting, as you mentioned. People in Vermont can vote 45 days before the election, and the secretary of state here believes at least one-third of all ballots will be used in the early voting system in this election. That’s amazing.

And in some parts of this state, it’s even higher. In Brattleboro, down in the southeastern corner of Vermont, they’re expecting between 55 and 65 percent of all votes will be cast by early ballot, and it’s become very popular in Vermont. A lot of people don’t want to stand in line, and they think that early voting is the greatest thing in the world.

Meanwhile, across the Connecticut River in New Hampshire, incumbent Governor Chris Sununu is challenged by Molly Kelly. NHPR’s Dan Barrick explains what issues separate those candidates.

Dan Barrick, NHPR: They’re both pretty much in line with their respective parties. A big issue that Sununu is focusing on is the state economy. He’s had the advantage of running on a pretty strong state economy. Unemployment is extremely low -- among the lowest in the nation. Tax revenues are up. He’s been able to point to a number of big state employers that have either expanded, or new companies that have moved into New Hampshire on his watch.

Kelly is also focusing a lot on the economy, but taking a very different approach, as you might imagine. She’s not necessarily taking on the governor’s claims head on, but noting that for many New Hampshire residents -- particularly in more remote, rural parts of the state -- they’re not feeling the benefits of that economic boom, whether it’s some combination of low job prospects, low wage -- you know, in many parts of the state, there’s not a lot of high-wage jobs available. The opioid crisis has certainly taken a toll in many communities, and had impact on local economies.

So the economy is definitely the one major issue where you’ll see the two of them kind of squaring off most, with the starkest differences.

Is the governor’s race the box on the ballot that’s going to get the voters out to the polls?

It’s hard to say. I mean, Sununu has been in office for one term. He comes from a prominent political family here. Folks may recall his father was the governor here, and later served as chief of staff to the first George Bush in the White House. His approval ratings are remarkably high. Folks seem generally satisfied with the job he’s doing.

Kelly: she’s generally well-liked. I have not seen the level of enthusiasm for this race, for instance, that we’ve seen for the race for our open congressional seat, the one on the Seacoast here, between Democrat Chris Pappas and Republican Eddie Edwards. There seems to be a lot more Democratic enthusiasm there.

Anecdotally, even just going around the state, it’s not unusual to see houses with yard signs for every Democratic candidate -- say for state Senate, and state legislature, and Congress -- but no Kelly sign. What that means -- take it as you will -- but a lot of Democrats, if you talk to them privately, simply say: we might have a really good night on Election Day, but it’s going to take an amazing night for us to defeat Sununu.

Isn’t New Hampshire a state that’s pretty famous for split-ticket voting?

Yeah. For instance, right now, we have an all-Democratic congressional delegation. But on the state level, the state House and governor’s office are totally dominated by Republicans.

I’m not sure whether or not that’ll be the case the day after Election Day. But just based on the polls and the enthusiasm, and kind of the mood on the campaign trail, I do think Sununu is in about as good a spot as a Republican can be right now, in 2018.

Keep up online with NHPR's election coverage, and VPR's election coverage.

Take a look at the NEPR Massachusetts General Election Voter Guide 2018.