NH House Dems win another special election, creep closer to 50-50 split

Sep. 19—Nottingham Democrat Hal Rafter's victory Tuesday night in a special election means the New Hampshire House is one vote away from being evenly divided when the 2024 session opens in January.

Rafter's win over Republican Northwood Selectman James Guzofski gave Democrats their fourth straight pickup in special House elections this year.

Unofficial totals showed Rafter winning 55.9% of the vote in both towns, beating Guzofski 641-485 in Northwood and 930-755 in Nottingham.

Once Rafter is sworn in, House Republicans will have the smallest possible majority over Democrats, 198-197.

If, as expected, Democrats make another pickup in the deep blue Nashua Ward 4 this November, the House would be a flat-footed tie.

There are two independents in the House — one a former Democrat, the other a former Republican.

Announcements of two resignations this week mean the House has three vacancies to be filled.

Earlier Tuesday, four-term Rep. Troy Merner, R-Lancaster, resigned from a GOP-leaning seat in the North Country.

The previous day, House Democrats took a loss when nine-term Rep. Bill Hatch, D-Gorham, decided to leave his seat because of ill health.

"I am hopeful that two special elections will be called in Coos County in short order," said House Democratic Leader Matt Wilhelm of Manchester.

Tuesday's race was to replace Nottingham Republican Benjamin Bartlett IV, who showed up for the opening day of the session but then missed the next 135 roll calls, citing illness.

Bartlett said he stepped down after House GOP leaders spoke to him about his chronic absences.

Setting the table

In November 2022, Rafter came up only 25 votes short of winning one of the district's two seats.

In the special election primary, the unopposed Rafter got 245 votes, the most of any candidate in either party.

In the contested GOP primary, Guzofski defeated Nottingham Republican activist Jessica Sternberg, 230-184.

Rafter also held an overwhelming financial advantage in the special election race. He raised more than $46,000. Guzofski reported raising less than $500.

Heading into the election, both sides worked overtime to motivate their supporters.

Late in the campaign, Guzofski blasted the influence of "outsider" money in the race.

"Are outsiders trying to influence our district's election? Well, if you are a resident of Northwood, you may have received political postcards from New Jersey and Georgia. One of the fundamental principles of an election is that the people of that district get to choose a local resident to represent them," Guzofski said.

Rep. Mike Belcher, R-Wakefield, warned of the stakes in a commentary on the Granite Grok website last month.

"Should this election go to the radical Democrat, we would lose our House majority, the speaker's position would likely be vacated, a new Democrat speaker elected, and new Democrat committee chairs named for this coming year," Belcher warned.

"I do not want to see this happen."