- Associated Press - Thursday, September 15, 2011

MANCHESTER, N.H. (AP) — New Hampshire Democratic Gov. John Lynch announced Thursday he would not seek re-election to the office he has held for four consecutive terms, clearing the way for GOP jostling for his seat and a scramble in his party to find a new champion.

In making his announcement at a Manchester elementary school where he was flanked by staff and many of the commissioners he has appointed, Mr. Lynch said every institution needs to be refreshed.

“But democracy demands periodic change. To refresh and revive itself, democracy needs new leaders and new ideas,” he said. “I think it’s time for the next generation of leadership for New Hampshire.”

Many believe he is the most formidable Democratic candidate the party could offer. He survived a GOP sweep of the state’s top offices in 2010.

Republicans have been attempting to portray him as anti-job and out of step with New Hampshire voters.

They point to his veto of legislation that barred unions from collecting a share of administrative and negotiating costs from nonunion members. The GOP-controlled Legislature also overrode his veto of abortion limits on minors and will have to deal with a certain veto of a bill to repeal New Hampshire’s gay marriage law should it pass next year. Mr. Lynch signed the law legalizing gay unions in 2009.

And even before Mr. Lynch had finished talking, the Republican Governors Association issued a statement saying his departure would make it easier for the GOP to win the seat in November 2012.

New Hampshire Republicans were already fired up at the prospect of turning the state red in 2012,” RGA Executive Director Phil Cox said in a statement. “John Lynch’s decision to forgo a re-election bid increases the GOP’s chances of picking up the governorship and puts the Democrats further on their heels nationally in 2012.”

Manchester Republican Ovide Lamontagne, who lost the GOP primary to U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte last year, has been considering a run, but with Mr. Lynch’s departure, others may see if they can get support for a bid.

On the Democratic side, former state Sen. Maggie Hassan of Exeter quietly has been organizing in the event Mr. Lynch bowed out. Senate Democratic Leader Sylvia Larsen said after Mr. Lynch’s announcement that she is endorsing Ms. Hassan.

Democratic Party Chairman Raymond Buckley would not speculate on possible Democratic candidates Thursday. But former Democratic Party Chairwoman Kathy Sullivan said a number of people, including Ms. Hassan, may jump in.

Mr. Lynch did not reveal what he would do next but said he will stay focused on being governor for the next 16 months. He has said many times he has no interest in running for federal office, and his press secretary, Colin Manning, said Mr. Lynch has no plans to run for any office.

Before his election in 2004, Mr. Lynch made a living helping financially troubled companies reorganize. Mr. Lynch was the first challenger since 1926 to unseat a freshman governor when he beat Republican Craig Benson in 2004 by promising to replace a “culture of corruption” with one of integrity and bipartisanship.

From the start of his political career, Mr. Lynch defused a potent Republican issue by pledging to veto any general sales or income tax in a state that has neither. He campaigned on the same promises in 2006, when he easily beat Republican state Rep. Jim Coburn to win a second term, and again in 2008 when he beat Republican state Sen. Joe Kenney for his third term.

During his second term, Mr. Lynch backed laws that increased the compulsory dropout age to 18, expanded a children’s health insurance program, expanded services to the disabled on waiting lists and increased the minimum wage for the first time in a decade. In a mostly symbolic fight, the Republican Legislature repealed the state’s minimum wage law this year, overriding his veto. The wage remained the same, now controlled by federal law.

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