CONCORD, N.H.—Moderate Democratic Gov. John Lynch overcame an anti-incumbent groundswell Tuesday to defeat conservative Republican John Stephen for a fourth consecutive two-year term as New Hampshire's governor.
Lynch will be the longest-serving governor in New Hampshire since colonial times. The last governor to serve longer than six consecutive years was John Gilman, who served from 1794-1805 after being elected to consecutive one-year terms. Governor's terms changed to two years around 1870, and no one has won four consecutive terms since then.
Lynch survived one of his toughest re-election tests since taking office in 2004. Stephen attempted to capitalize on voter unrest by promising to cut state spending without raising taxes.
In his victory speech, Lynch noted Democrats had lost control of the Legislature. Republicans also controlled the Legislature during his first term as governor.
"But I am committed to working with the members of the next Legislature, regardless of party, to get results for the people of New Hampshire," he said. "Our state faces challenges over the next two years, but with good New Hampshire common sense, hard work and cooperation, we will conquer those challenges."
Lynch said outside advocacy groups spent $4 million fighting his re-election.
"They said they wanted to use New Hampshire to send a message to the rest of the nation," he said. "Well tonight, the people of New Hampshire did send a message, a strong message, about who we are and what we value. New Hampshire values are standing up for our citizens."
In conceding, Stephen claimed his message of low taxes, spending cuts and less government may not have propelled him to victory, but was heard by voters who elected Republicans in other state races.
"This election has sent a clear message that our citizens simply don't want more taxes. They don't want more spending and borrowing," he said.
Preliminary results from exit polls for The Associated Press show Lynch won with help from independents and Republicans, though he's lost ground among both groups since his 2008 landslide victory.
Lynch was backed by nine out of 10 Democrats, roughly half the independents and just under a fifth of the Republicans. Compared with two years ago, his biggest drop was among the independent or undeclared voters who outnumber those registered with either party.
Stephen drew some of his strongest support from tea party supporters and those who said their family's financial situation had worsened since 2008. Men were split between the two candidates, while women favored Lynch.
Lynch, a millionaire businessman turned politician, said he could produce a balanced budget with spending cuts and a moderate growth in state revenues. He pointed out that he and the Democratic-controlled Legislature used a mix of spending cuts, potential land sales and borrowing to balance the budget in 2010 and leave the state with a projected $70 million surplus.
Lynch consistently defused a potent Republican issue by pledging to veto any general sales or personal income tax in a state that has neither.
Stephen criticized Lynch for signing a law requiring prison inmates to be released nine months before the end of their sentences so they could be supervised. Crime victims asked for the new law to monitor felons once they leave prison.
Stephen said the law made no exceptions for violent and sex offenders from being released early. He also criticized the law for setting a 90-day limit on the time that parole violators spend in prison.
Lynch insisted it is better to supervise the inmates than simply let them walk out the door. He also said he is monitoring the new law to see what, if any, adjustments are needed.
Lynch then criticized Stephen for his decision as Health and Human Services commissioner to let some felons be foster parents.
Stephen changed the rules in 2004 to let social workers decide if someone would make a good foster parent even if he or she had a criminal record. Stephen said anyone convicted of a violent crime or a crime against a child would still be banned, but the old policy was too strict.
Lynch also criticized Stephen, a former prosecutor, for seeking a pardon for a convicted arsonist and for refusing to fire from his 2002 congressional campaign a worker who was accused of stalking.
Lynch, 57, of Hopkinton, won the first of his three two-year terms as governor in 2004 when he unseated an unpopular Republican governor by promising to restore integrity to government.
Lynch is a native of Waltham, Mass. Before his 2004 election, he was president of a Manchester consulting firm, The Lynch Group. Prior to that, he was an admissions director of Harvard Business School and president and chief executive of Knoll Inc., a Pennsylvania furniture company. He has degrees from the University of New Hampshire, Harvard Business School and Georgetown University Law Center.
Libertarian John Babiarz of Grafton also was on the ballot.