- Associated Press - Thursday, March 17, 2016

MANCHESTER, N.H. (AP) - Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas jumped in the Republican race for governor Thursday, pledging to make tackling the state’s drug crisis his top priority.

“That is the No. 1 issue people are talking about every single day,” Gatsas said.

His announcement makes him the fifth candidate seeking to replace outgoing Gov. Maggie Hassan - and several more candidates may yet enter the race. Hassan, a Democrat in her second two-year term, is battling for Republican Kelly Ayotte’s U.S. Senate seat.

Executive Councilor Chris Sununu and Rep. Frank Edelblut are also seeking the GOP nomination, and state Sen. Jeanie Forrester will announce her plans soon. On the Democratic side, Councilor Colin Van Ostern and former state securities regulator Mark Connolly are running. The primary will be held in September.

On both sides, the race has been relatively quiet so far as the candidates seek to build statewide name recognition and raise money. An early March voter survey from the UNH Survey Center shows the candidates are unknown by a majority of New Hampshire residents. Only Sununu, who is the son and brother of a former governor and U.S. senator, has name recognition higher than 50 percent.

Gatsas said he’ll focus his campaign on lowering health care costs, giving local communities more control over schools and creating a stronger climate for economic development. Gatsas is in his fourth term as the mayor of Manchester, New Hampshire’s largest city, where more than 20 people have died this year from drug overdoses. He previously served in the state Senate.

Speaking with The Associated Press, Sununu said it’s a “good thing” to have more candidates in the race and looks forward to a positive, issues-based campaign. He noted the drug crisis, education reform and economic growth are also the key issues of his campaign.

Sununu jumped in the race last fall and has already locked up support from a number of prominent Republicans. As news of Gatsas’ entrance into the race broke Thursday, Sununu rolled out a fresh list of endorsements, including Donna Sytek, a former New Hampshire House speaker, and Doug and Stella Scamman, well-known Republicans from Stratham.

Still, the presidential and U.S. Senate contests are likely to play a large role in who wins the governor’s race come November. Fergus Cullen, a former state GOP chairman, said a Donald Trump candidacy will make it more difficult for Republicans down the ticket. Despite Trump’s win in the Republican primary in the state, Democrats historically outperform Republicans in presidential years in New Hampshire. The state Democratic party is already linking the GOP candidates to Trump, specifically citing recent violence at Trump’s rallies.

“If Trump is the nominee, it’s going to be a likely bloodbath for most Republicans on the ticket in New Hampshire,” Cullen said.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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