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NH Politics

Ruais, Cavanaugh win mayoral primary in Manchester, N.H.

The two will face off in the Nov. 7 general election to determine who will lead the largest city in northern New England

Candidates for mayor of Manchester, N.H., Jay Ruais (left) and Kevin Cavanaugh, after competing in the nonpartisan mayoral primary on Tuesday.(Carlin Stiehl for The Boston Globe)

MANCHESTER, N.H. — The four-way mayoral primary was nonpartisan, but the two candidates who advanced after Tuesday’s vote were the ones with clear backing from each party’s establishment players.

Jay Ruais and Kevin Cavanaugh will face off in the Nov. 7 general election to determine who will lead the largest city in northern New England.

Unofficial results from the city clerk’s office showed Ruais in first with 4,296 votes, Cavanaugh in second with 2,570 votes, Will Stewart in third with 1,987 votes, and June Trisciani in fourth with 1,455 votes.

Ruais entered the race with an endorsement from Governor Chris Sununu and other Republican leaders. He’s a former congressional staffer, an infantry officer in the Army National Guard, and a nonprofit leader. Cavanaugh, the current Ward 1 alderman who has served as a labor leader, coach, and former Democratic state senator, nabbed endorsements from incumbent Mayor Joyce Craig, labor groups, and Senator Maggie Hassan.

Ruais and Cavanaugh each celebrated their wins with election night parties at notably different venues. Ruais addressed his supporters in a spacious room at Derryfield Country Club, while Cavanaugh’s camp packed into a much smaller room at Billy’s Sports Bar & Grill. Both parties served chicken tenders, a natural choice given their shared desire to lead the official chicken tender capital of the world.

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“This election represents a clear and simple choice,” Ruais told his supporters. “Will we continue with the status quo? Or will we begin tonight to fix the problems that we have in the city of Manchester?”

Jay Ruais, Republican candidate for mayor of Manchester, N.H., arrives at a celebration at the Derryfield Country Club.Carlin Stiehl for The Boston Globe

Ruais focused his message on promoting public safety, supporting first responders, reforming the bail system, and solving challenges related to homelessness. He briefly spoke in Spanish to say that some in the city have felt forgotten and abandoned. In a statement, he said Cavanaugh’s record as an alderman shows he’s just “another rubber stamp for the status quo.”

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Cavanaugh rejected the notion that he has been a rubber stamp either in the city or during his time as a state senator. He said he doesn’t follow the pack, he finds common ground. “I think we’ve got to bring people together, and I won’t stop,” he said. “I won’t stop doing that.”

Cavanaugh’s message to his supporters focused on housing, education, protecting access to reproductive health care, and promoting economic opportunity, including with “good-paying union jobs.”

“I know we can continue to move the Queen City forward,” he said.

“We need to build a Manchester that works for everyone, from our seniors to our young families,” he added in a statement.

Craig, who is campaigning in the 2024 race for governor, said she was “thrilled” to see Cavanaugh’s hard work pay off.

“His quality is that he can work across the aisle and bring people together to really determine what needs to be done,” she said.

Kathleen Paquette, who came out on top in a four-way aldermanic primary in Ward 5, said Ruais has made a very positive impression on her.

“He’s one of the best people I’ve met in a long time,” Paquette said, as she and her husband held signs outside their polling place Tuesday to support her and Ruais. She recalled how Ruais reached out to her to offer his condolences and assistance after her father passed away a few weeks ago.

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“I think you need to be a good politician. I think you need to know what you’re doing,” she said. “But I also think that in order to be a great mayor, you also need to be a great person. And he’s got that.”

Kevin Cavanaugh, Democratic candidate for mayor of Manchester, N.H., speaks at a press conference outside Billy’s Sports Bar & Grill after competing in Tuesday's primary.Carlin Stiehl for The Boston Globe

New Hampshire Democratic Party chair Ray Buckley suggested Cavanaugh understands the city and is better positioned to represent its interests. He called Ruais a “carpetbagger.”

Buckley also commended Trisciani and Stewart for their candidacies.

“This Manchester mayoral race saw three high-quality Democratic candidates running fantastic races. ... Our deep bench of talented and committed Democratic leaders are a source of pride and inspiration for our entire state,” Buckley said.

Even though Ruais captured the most votes in Tuesday’s primary, the results could signal trouble for his odds in the general election, according to Republican strategist Michael Biundo. Ruais should celebrate the win, “but as someone that has spent a lot of time around Manchester politics, the fact the Democrats got a combined majority is a cautionary tale for the GOP,” Biundo wrote on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

Stewart, the current Ward 2 alderman, is a former journalist who has worked as a community organizer in Manchester and for the Greater Manchester Chamber. He’s now executive director of Stay Work Play New Hampshire, which aims to attract young people to the state. His endorsers included a variety of local leaders and business owners.

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Trisciani, a current at-large alderman, is a Manchester native who owns her own small business. Her endorsers included a local labor leader and EMILYs List. Seen as something of a rising star in the Democratic Party, she ran for state Senate in 2022 after redistricting tilted the district toward Republicans.

Manchester has been known to elect mayors from either party. In the 12 years before Craig took office, the city’s corner office was occupied by Republican-aligned mayors Frank Guinta and Ted Gatsas. Both of them have endorsed Ruais.

Carlene Norton votes at Manchester’s Ward 1 with her grandchildren Leah Drew, 7 months, and Conor Drew, 3.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Steven Porter can be reached at steven.porter@globe.com. Follow him @reporterporter.