Rochester Grassie vs. Walker revote gets close attention with NH House closely divided
This story has been updated to clarify the election is Tuesday, Feb. 21.
ROCHESTER — Last November’s elections gave New Hampshire Republicans a razor-thin majority: 201 to 198. But one House seat, representing Rochester’s Ward 4, is still up for grabs.
That race, which ended in a tie, will be decided Tuesday, Feb. 21 in a special election pitting the same candidates against each other once again. And though the stage is small — just a few square miles on Rochester’s west side — the stakes are high. With the New Hampshire House of Representatives as closely split as it’s been in a century, one more seat for either party could help determine major decisions on the state budget, abortion policy, school choice and more.
“It is only one seat,” says David Walker, the Republican candidate. “But if three people are sick and don’t show up to vote, you just lost your majority. So this seat is of big importance to both parties.”
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Walker and his opponent, Democratic incumbent Chuck Grassie, have not stopped campaigning since the summer.
“I’m sick of it,” says Walker. “It’s tiring, but we’ll get there.”
Both parties are pouring energy and money into the election. According to campaign finance reports, Democrats have spent a little under $180,000 on the special election. The New Hampshire Republican Party hasn’t filed reports with the Secretary of State’s office as of Friday and did not answer NHPR inquiries about expenditures. But they’re also spending money on social media ads and glossy mailers.
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On a recent Saturday, both campaigns sent volunteers and staff to voters’ doors. Their message was simple: Expect the February revote to be just as tight as the tie last November.
Jason Sank, a volunteer for the Walker campaign, said he rarely meets a voter who’s undecided.
“The way things are right now in American politics, and just life in general, a lot of people don’t need pitch,” he said “They’re straight party loyalty.”
Despite the partisan tone to this election, Walker and Grassie have some things in common. They lived on the same street, near the local elementary school. They’ve helped each other out with yard projects, even as they’ve put opposing political signs on their lawn. And they worked together on Rochester's city council for years.
“I would say 99% of the time, Dave and I voted together on the city council. When we teamed up together, we got things passed,” said Grassie.
“I’ve known Chuck for 25 years,” said Walker, who also served as Rochester mayor. “We’re friends.”
Grassie served as a state rep in the 1970s and 80s, then returned to the State House six years ago. He grew up in Ward 4 and tells voters what their street used to be like when he was a kid there in the 1950s.
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The ward — like a lot of Rochester — is full of modest single family homes and converted rentals. One of the neighborhoods, on the west side of the Cocheco River, is named “Frenchtown” after the French Canadians who settled here when Rochester was a bustling mill town.
Grassie says most residents work long hours, and they don’t have a lot of time for politics.
Kalpesh Thakar, the owner of a neighborhood convenience store that sits along the river, said that despite the attention this special election is getting, residents are weary.
“No one is interested — I don’t know why,” he said. “I’m interested, but I don’t know – I am working full-time all the time over here.”
The partisan nature of the race is also taking its toll. Several voters said they didn’t want to share who they plan to vote for, because their neighbors might stop talking to them.
Grassie said regardless of the election results, he and Walker will still be friends.
“We’ll move on, and the next day I’ll honk at him when I see him taking his grandchild to school and when he goes by my house if I’m out on the front yard he’ll honk at me” he said. “We live on the same street, but on opposite ends of the street.”
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This article originally appeared on Fosters Daily Democrat: Rochester NH: Grassie vs. Walker special election vote closely watched