After two contested GOP primaries in Coos County on Tuesday, Republicans are headed into next month’s special elections with confidence that they will retain their edge in the New Hampshire House for the foreseeable future.
Democrats have been working to break the GOP’s trifecta in Concord, N.H., but even if they were to prevail in both of the Coos County special elections on Jan. 23, they still wouldn’t have quite enough seats to claim an outright lead in the 400-member chamber.
After one member’s death and another’s resignation, Democrats are farther now from their goal than they were one month ago. There are now 198 Republicans, 195 Democrats, three independents, and four vacancies, according to the House clerk’s office.
What’s more, Republicans figure they are well-positioned to win the Coos County District 1 special election and perhaps the District 6 race as well, according to Representative Ross Berry of Manchester, who serves as vice chairman of the Committee to Elect House Republicans.
“I think we’re sitting pretty,” he said.
Berry said the committee didn’t see a need to take an active role ahead of the primary elections because the group’s due diligence process confirmed all four GOP candidates in the two contested races were viable. But the committee will be highly involved in both races ahead of the general elections, he said.
Republican optimism is also getting a boost from another source: the calendar. The special elections on Jan. 23 will coincide with New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary, which could lead to higher turnout among Republican voters, since the GOP race is widely viewed as more competitive.
“My guess is it’ll be beneficial to Republicans,” Berry said. “We have obviously a hotly contested presidential primary, and the Democrats are attempting a write-in coronation.”
Representative Laura Telerski of Nashua, who chairs the NH House Democratic Victory Campaign Committee, said her group will run “full force” in these special elections.
“If we lose one or both elections,” she said, “it will have nothing to do with either sides’ operations, but rather high Republican turnout for the presidential primary.”
Telerski said Democrats knew “the deck would be stacked against us” once Republican leaders scheduled these special elections. If the primaries hadn’t been contested, then the special general elections in Coos County would have been held on Tuesday rather than coinciding with the presidential primary.
Still, Democrats aren’t coming into these contests flat-footed. They are on a winning streak, with five special election victories under their belts this year, and their locally run committee has received some of its financial backing from the national Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee.
“We believe that with our winning record, our financial dominance, and our positive record of fighting for Granite State families, we have already proven that we are on track to win back the gavel in November 2024,” Telerski said.
Results from Coos County District 1, which includes Dalton, Lancaster, Northumberland, and Stratford, showed Sean C. Durkin of Northumberland prevailing over Pamela J. Kathan of Dalton in the GOP primary. Durkin will face off with Democratic candidate Cathleen A. Fountain of Dalton in the special general election.
Results from Coos County District 6, which includes Gorham, Randolph, Shelburne, Success, and several smaller communities, showed Michael P. Murphy of Gorham prevailing over Don Lacasse of Gorham in the GOP primary. Murphy will face off with Democratic candidate Edith Tucker of Randolph in the special general election.
In addition to the two Coos County races, a special election is taking shape in Strafford County District 11, where a special primary election is expected Jan. 23 followed by a special general election March 12. There will be at least one contested primary, since two Democrats from Lee filed to run, according to that town’s clerk.
It remains to be seen whether the House’s current fourth vacancy, in Rockingham County District 21, which includes Newington and part of Portsmouth, will be filled this term before the statutory cutoff date.
The Portsmouth City Council voted on Monday to authorize city officials to request that the matter of a potential special election be added to the agenda for the Governor and Executive Council meeting on Dec. 20. But the state is up against a hard deadline in state law.