CONCORD - Despite a pandemic, New Hampshire voters turned out in record numbers to reward incumbents and familiar names on the ballot in Tuesday's primary election, an election like none experienced before.
Seeking safety, as many as 100,000 voters used absentee ballots, five to six times the usual number, but about 60 percent still went to the polls to cast their ballots.
Although he was not on the ballot, President Donald Trump's power to sway voters in the Granite State was evident helping his endorsed candidates to victory.
The wait was not long for many incumbents as GOP Gov. Chris Sununu easily won his party's nomination for the third time, as did Democratic U.S. Senate incumbent and former three-term Gov. Jeanne Shaheen.
The Democratic gubernatorial race was a close contest although Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes held a 6-point lead over Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky with 72 percent of the votes tabulated.
Feltes won every ward in the two attorneys' hometown of Concord, while Volinsky, who was endorsed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, won many communities in the Monadnock region and other areas impacted by high property taxes to pay for education.
Volinsky was the lead attorney in the Claremont education lawsuit and has made more equitable funding a touchstone of his campaign, while Feltes took the infamous pledge to veto any broad-based taxes and believes closing business tax loopholes will provide adequate funding for increased education aid to the state's poorer districts.
Second Congressional District Democratic incumbent Ann McLane Kuster easily won and will have a rematch with former state Rep. Steven Negron of Nashua who defeated former Rep. Lynne Ferrari Blankenbeker of Concord.
First Congressional District Democratic incumbent Chris Pappas was unopposed.
Pappas will face former Trump and NH GOP Party official Matt Mowers, who defeated long-time GOP activist Matt Mayberry of Dover. Mowers was endorsed by Trump as was U.S. GOP Senate candidate Corky Messner, a successful Denver attorney who has been a Granite State resident for about four years.
Messner battled with Retired Brig. General Don Bolduc for the nomination. Messner had a 7 point lead with about 72 percent of the precincts reporting.
Click here for election totals compiled by the New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/09/08/us/elections/results-new-hampshire-primary-elections.html
Locally, the primary votes for Strafford County Sheriff were not official yet, however The Rochester Voice can confirm Rochester residents gave Paul Callaghan a resounding win with 1,645 votes against his closest competitor Wayne M. Esters with 903.
The Secretary of State's Office said today official results of the sheriff's primary won't be available for a day or two.
In other local contests, state Senate candidate James Gray, Dist. 22 state rep candidate Thomas K and Dist. 23 state rep candidate Fenton Groen were all unopposed.
Republicans put forth no candidates for County Attorney, County Treasurer, Register of Deeds and Register of Probate.
Due to a reporting glitch Rochester Democrat Primary results were not immediately available.
Rochester Deputy Clerk Cassie Givara recorded the turnout as 39 percent for Democrat voters and 45 percent for Republican.
Secretary of State Bill Gardner predicted record turnout and he appeared to be -- as usual -- right on the money.
With contests on both sides of the ballot, members of both parties and independents had reason to vote.
The state changed the law to allow those concerned about contracting COVID-19 to vote by absentee ballot, and other changes to increase safety for election officials and workers, and voters.
To address safety issues, polling places were rearranged and moved in many communities to provide for social distancing. Personal protection equipment was evident and voters were told to keep the pens and given matts to hold ballots to avoid potentially contaminated surfaces.
However, the virus did not stop more than 100,000 people from going to the polls to cast their vote in person, about 60 percent of voters.
In winning the GOP nomination for the third time, Sununu took about 90 percent of the vote to about 9 percent for conservative activist Karen Testerman.
"Serving as your Governor has been my honor," he said in a statement. "In 2021, New Hampshire will need the management experience to promote businesses, keep our state safe, and invigorate economic opportunity for families."
On the Democratic side, Feltes won the three largest counties Hillsborough, Rockingham and Merrimack, while Volinsky won Strafford and Cheshire and possibly Sullivan, but was running out of places to pick up the 4,500 votes he needed to close the gap.
Volinsky warned supporters it would likely be a late night.
Shaheen was an early winner garnering about 94 percent of the vote to easily win her third nomination to the post.
She begins the general election campaign with about $7 million in her war chest having raised $15.6 million.
Messner mostly self-funded his campaign raising $4.4 million, and has about $2.5 million on hand to begin the general election.
First Congressional District incumbent Chris Pappas was unopposed. In a live appearance Tuesday evening he touted his work in the U.S. House during his first term and stressed his bipartisan approach to successfully work for better veterans benefits, environmental protection and more accessible and affordable health care unlike his GOP opponent.
"At this moment of national crisis with so much at stake is why we need leaders that put New Hampshire first," Pappas said. "I'll leave it to my opponent to run a campaign of smear and fear which represents everything that is wrong with politics today."
Mowers, who served as the executive director of the state GOP before moving to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's presidential campaign, has said he supports much of Trump's agenda of restricting immigration, building a wall along Mexico's border, is anti-abortion and wants to reduce the federal budget.
Kuster won easily in seeking her fifth term in the U.S. House.
"I'm running for re-election because as we face the COVID-19 pandemic," Kuster said in a statement, "it is more important than ever that we focus on our shared goals and work together to lift all Granite State families."
Negron held a 7 point lead with 63 percent of the votes counted, when Blankenbeker conceded.
In District 1, former councilor Joe Kenney will face off against incumbent Democrat Michael Cryans who was unopposed.
In District 2, about 1,000 votes separated Cinde Warmington and Leah Plunkett, both of Concord, in the six-person race for the Democratic nomination in the heavily Democratic district.
On the Republican side, Jim Beard of Lempster held a lead over Stewart I. Levenson of Hopkinton.
In District 3, former Rep. Mindi Messmer had a two-to-one lead over Rep. Patty Lovejoy. On the Republican side, Janet Stevens leads the three-person race for the nomination.
In District 4, the Democratic three-way race was led by former union president Mark Mackenzie, who is likely to face Republican incumbent Ted Gatsas.
And in District 5, former councilor David Wheeler had a sizable lead over former state Sen. Bob Clegg in the Republican primary to face Democratic incumbent Debora Pignatelli.
Official results are not expected until Wednesday and Thursday from the Secretary of State's Office.
Garry Rayno writes for the NH news nonprofit INdepthNH.org. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Rochester Voice editor Harrison Thorp contributed to this report.