- Associated Press - Friday, December 25, 2015

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - A crowded field of Republicans roaming the state as they take aim at the White House, a high-profile trial that cast a harsh glare on an elite prep school and a growing heroin crisis that captured the attention of lawmakers were among the top stories in 2015 in New Hampshire.

The biggest stories of the year:



The race for the presidency actually started before the calendar turned over to 2015, but the year in the first-in-the-nation primary state was dominated by nearly daily visits from candidates of all stripes. Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie led the parade with 35 visits as of Dec. 21, while South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham - now out of the race - made 27 trips that included a whopping 176 individual events, according to the New England Cable News candidate tracker. Democrats Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley also tromped through the state looking to lock down that party’s support in the Feb. 9 primary.



As expected, Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan announced she would run for the U.S. Senate seat held by first-term Republican Kelly Ayotte, setting off a race in a key swing state that could be crucial to control of the Senate. With Hassan leaving the corner office in Concord, candidates from both parties announced campaigns for governor. Meanwhile, Republican U.S. Rep. Frank Guinta defied calls for his resignation - including from some top Republicans - after the Federal Election Commission concluded he broke campaign finance law by taking a $355,000 loan from his parents. He has insisted that the money was his. Democrat Carol Shea-Porter said she’ll run again for the seat.



Before 2015, St. Paul’s School in Concord was best known for turning out some of the nation’s elite, including Secretary of State John Kerry, former FBI Director Robert Mueller and Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau. This year, a 2014 graduate named Owen Labrie put the school under the harsh glare of global media scrutiny during his trial on charges that he raped an underage classmate as part of a campus practice known as “Senior Salute.” Labrie, of Tunbridge, Vermont, was acquitted of rape but found guilty of sex assault and using a computer to lure the girl to the sexual encounter. He was sentenced to a year in jail and ordered to register as a sex offender for life. He’s appealing the conviction.



A growing drug abuse epidemic - mostly linked to heroin and the powerful painkiller fentanyl - was on pace to kill more than 400 people in New Hampshire, more than double the number from just two years ago. Gov. Maggie Hassan called for a special legislative session to take up ways to stem the tide, but lawmakers instead formed a task force to develop finished legislation that can be voted on beginning in January when the regular session starts. The proposals will stiffen penalties for people who deal fentanyl, improve insurance coverage for substance abuse services and offer grants to help counties create or expand drug courts, among other steps.



State agencies and social services providers had to sweat out the summer months after Gov. Maggie Hassan vetoed a two-year budget approved by the Legislature. Split over whether to cut the state’s two largest business taxes, a pay raise for state workers and a failure to extend the state’s Medicaid expansion, Democrats and Republicans blamed each other for the stalemate. Lawmakers finally brought an $11.3 billion budget to the floor in September. But the rancor wasn’t over: A conservative wing of the tried at every turn to block the deal. Hassan signed the budget.



A 41-year-old man and his 6-year-old daughter, both of Concord, Vermont, died Aug. 3 when a severe storm knocked down a circus tent on the fairgrounds in Lancaster. Near the end of December, safety officials were still trying to determine why the tent collapsed. Fifty people were injured.



Two accomplices who helped kill Pamela Smart’s husband 25 years ago were granted parole. The killing of Gregory Smart became a tabloid sensation, the nation riveted by lurid details of Pamela Smart seducing high-schooler Billy Flynn. Flynn and Patrick Randall were both granted parole. Smart is serving life without the chance of parole.

Genevieve Kelley and her husband, Scott, pleaded guilty in June to taking Kelley’s then-8-year-old daughter out of the country more than a decade ago amid a custody dispute. They each were sentenced to short jail terms.

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