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Gay Councilor, Former Single Mom Highlight New Hampshire Primary Wins For Democrats

Holly Ramer / AP
Former state Sen. Molly Kelly and executive Councilor Chris Pappas won Democratic nominations for keys posts in the New Hampshire primary

(CONCORD, N.H.) — New Hampshire Democrats on Tuesday nominated a former state senator who emphasized her single-mom background as governor and a gay man who worked his way up through local politics as their nominee for Congress in a key swing district.

Former state Sen. Molly Kelly defeated former Portsmouth Mayor Steve Marchand to win the Democratic gubernatorial nomination and will face Republican Gov. Chris Sununu in November. Sununu, in his first term, faced no primary opposition.

Executive Councilor Chris Pappas won an 11-way race for the Democratic nomination in the 1st Congressional district, where Democrat Carol Shea-Porter’s decision to step down after four nonconsecutive terms resulted in a swarm of candidates seeking to replace her. They included Levi Sanders, son of Vermont senator and former presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, who came up short.

The district, which covers the eastern half of the state, was once reliably Republican but has flipped in each of the past four cycles. In 2016, it returned Shea-Porter to Congress but backed President Donald Trump.

On the crowded Democratic side, former Obama administration official Maura Sullivan raised more money than the other 10 candidates combined, but she’s faced criticism for being both new to the state and voting in general. She moved to the state last year, and acknowledged not voting in several recent elections.

Pappas is a former state lawmaker who is serving his third term on the governor’s Executive Council and runs a family restaurant in Manchester. He had the backing of the state’s two Democratic U.S. senators, and said he was proud that most of the money he raised came from within the state.

Pappas told supporters Tuesday evening his campaign will be about decency, unity and progress. He described meeting an LGBTQ student in Manchester who said she was unsure of her place in the community.

“She needs a role model and a champion, too, and I hope this historic victory tonight has some small impact in making her understand this fact: You, too, are welcome here, and regardless of who you are or who you love, the sky’s the limit,” he said.

State Sen. Andy Sanborn and Eddie Edwards, former enforcement chief for the state liquor commission, emerged as the front-runners in the six-candidate Republican race.

Edwards, who received the backing of Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, sought to make the race about character and integrity, and said he’d refuse to support Sanborn as the nominee. Sanborn, a four-term senator from Bedford, has acknowledged making a sexual “joke” to a Statehouse intern in 2013 but said a recent investigation into the matter was politically motivated.

Seven Republicans were competing for a chance to face Democratic U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster in the 2nd Congressional District. She, too, faced no opposition in the primary.

In the governor’s race, Kelly said strong Democratic turnout should send a message to Sununu that voters want someone who will put the people first, not corporate special interests. A five-term senator from Harrisville, she frequently emphasized her experience as a single mother who raised three children while putting herself through college.

“The people of New Hampshire know that I will fight for them every single day because I understand their struggles,” she said in a statement Tuesday night. “Chris Sununu should not underestimate me. I’ve been underestimated before.”

Accustomed to going first in the presidential primary, New Hampshire voters were among the nation’s last to nominate candidates for November, providing one of the final measures of the country’s mood before November’s midterm election.

Rhode Island holds its primary on Wednesday, and New York follows a day later.