With three representatives retiring, state Democrats plan for November

by Sam Ferrone | 5/25/20 2:10am

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Updated May 25, 2020 at 11:55 p.m.

With three of Grafton County District 12’s four representatives not seeking reelection, state representatives and organizers remain confident that Hanover will stay blue on Nov. 3, despite the pandemic’s possible impact on student voter turnout.

The towns of Hanover and Lyme — together, Grafton County District 12 — send four representatives to the New Hampshire State House. Representatives are elected every two years. Currently, Rep. Polly Kent Campion (D), Rep. Mary Jane Mulligan (D), Rep. Garrett Muscatel ’20 (D) and Rep. Sharon Nordgren (D) represent the district. Of the four, only Nordgren will be running for reelection next fall.

The candidates for the 2020 election will not be publicly announced until after petitions are filed on June 12, but both Mulligan and Muscatel expressed optimism that the district will remain Democratic. 

“This is and will continue to be a Democratic stronghold,” Muscatel wrote in an email statement to The Dartmouth.

According to Mulligan, even if fewer Dartmouth students vote in the November elections due to possible remote learning this fall, the district will remain “a moderate Democratic area.”

She added that among those who have expressed interest in running, “each bring with them something special.”

Up to four Democratic candidates on the ballot will be chosen in the primary election on Sept. 8.

Mulligan did not give a singular reason for her retirement but said that the COVID-19 crisis has complicated her work. Mulligan, whose primary focuses in the legislature have been family law and gun control, said that she struggles with “a health issue,” and that as both a substitute teacher and a landlord, the pandemic has been especially difficult for her.

“My whole life was kind of turned upside down,” she said. 

Muscatel, who ran on a platform focused on student voting rights, will be retiring from the legislature after graduating from Dartmouth. He wrote that he will be supporting Nordgren and Riley Gordon ’22 for two of the open seats and is equally enthusiastic to see other candidates join the field.

“I’m excited to see the enthusiasm from Democrats in the district,” he said, adding that he is excited “to take a deeper look at the eventual field.”

Nordgren added that she will also be supporting Gordon in the race.

Campion did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

The COVID-19 crisis poses potential threats to turnout on election day, said Rachel Florman ’21, a member of the Dartmouth College Democrats.

She said that absentee voting has been a “much more convoluted process” than in-person voting.

Although she agreed Hanover would likely remain blue, she expressed uncertainty regarding voter turnout amid potential remote learning in the fall. She said that absentee voting would discourage some students from voting from home, adding that there may be a lower Dartmouth student turnout at the polls. 

“I had to provide my own postage,” Florman said of her experience voting absentee in the Democratic presidential primary this winter. She added that she hopes the process will “be simplified” by November.

Nordgren, the one representative of Grafton County District 12 who will be running for reelection in the fall, also expressed concerns that remote learning may affect voter turnout.

Recalling the 2016 election of Maggie Hassan as U.S. Senator for New Hampshire, Nordgren said “there were just crowds of Dartmouth students who came to support us,” adding that she hopes that similarly large numbers turn out this fall.

The opportunity to file as a candidate for the New Hampshire House of Representatives opens June 3 and closes June 12, according to Deb Nelson, chairperson of the Hanover/Lyme Democratic Party. Nelson emphasized the need for the local branch of the party to “hold as many Zoom meetings” as possible to allow voters to hear various candidates’ positions.

The Hanover/Lyme Democratic Party’s email list contains over 300 people, who will be kept up to date on when these candidate forums will take place, Nelson said.

As far as the future of the district’s representation goes, Nelson said that she remains confident that the seats will remain Democratic.

Nelson added that, due to COVID-19, candidates will have to put more than the usual amount of effort into community outreach this election cycle.

“The candidates themselves are going to have to work their networks … this is an election where [social media is] going to matter,” she said. “It’s going to be an even playing field in that respect.”