Van Ostern Launches Campaign to Oust Gardner as N.H. Secretary of State

Former gubernatorial candidate Colin Van Ostern is launching a campaign to unseat New Hampshire’s longtime Secretary of State and fellow Democrat, Bill Gardner.

New Hampshire’s Secretary of State is elected every two years, not by voters but by the Legislature – meaning that to win, Van Ostern would have to persuade enough state lawmakers that he’s better suited for the job than the man who’s held the seat for four decades and counting.

To that end, Van Ostern launched a political committee last fall meant to “support state issuesd and candidates who are moving New Hampshire forward.” As of its most recent filing, it’s raised more than $45,000 to pour into upcoming legislative races.

Gardner, responding to news of the campaign to unseat him on Wednesday morning, said he’d never before encountered this kind of politicking in the race for Secretary of State.

“I haven’t seen it, in almost a half a century,” Gardner said. “It never happened, the person that preceded me. And it never happened, the person that preceded that person. But I have my style, other people have their style.”

Suffice it to say, Gardner’s style is decidedly different than the one being employed by Van Ostern.

“When I first ran for the position, I never took a contribution. I never asked for any donations,” Gardner said. “I said I would not use this office as a stepping stone for higher office. I would do the job here, and I would do it in a way separating the political fray outside from in here. And what I have done speaks for itself.”

Gardner’s 42-year tenure as Secretary of State makes him the longest-serving one in the country. Those deep roots in the position, coupled with his loyal defense of New Hampshire’s first in the nation presidential primary, has made Gardner something of a Granite State icon, known nationwide.

A challenge to Gardner would be rare but, as noted by WMUR, not unprecedented. At least two other people have run against him before – including former Republican Party Chairwoman Donna Sytek, who later became New Hampshire’s first female Speaker of the House. 

But critics have also found fault with Gardner’s involvement in the Trump administration’s now-defunct voter fraud commission, his support for stricter voter eligibility requirements and, as recently as this week, his insistence that his office hold the final authority over the scheduling of even town-level elections.

Van Ostern, a former executive councilor who lost the 2016 gubernatorial race to Gov. Chris Sununu, is launching a political committee that will campaign for legislative candidates who support his agenda – which includes modernizing the state’s election systems, creating an independent redistricting commission and opposing stricter voter registration rules. 

Van Ostern plans to make his bid official at press conference in Concord Wednesday afternoon.