Colin Van Ostern Struggles With Name Recognition in NH Gubernatorial Race

It seems like Colin Van Ostern is struggling with an identity crisis. He knows who he is and the New Hampshire Democratic Party base knows who he is, but it seems independent voters around the state don’t know too much about the New Hampshire Democratic gubernatorial nominee.

That was apparent in the latest Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll released Thursday. While Van Ostern only trailed Republican nominee Chris Sununu by four points — 36 to 40 percent, respectively, with 20 percent still undecided — his favorability ratings tell a different story.

Sununu has a 35 percent favorable rating with 32 percent of voters finding him unfavorable. Only 10 percent have never heard of him and 23 percent are undecided on him. Of course, some voters may claim familiarity with Sununu based on his family’s involvement in New Hampshire politics.

Van Ostern has a 28 percent favorable and 18 percent unfavorable rating, but 26 percent are still undecided about him and 28 percent have never heard of him. For perspective, more people have heard of Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson than Van Ostern — 21 percent of Granite Staters said they never heard of Johnson, according to the survey.

It’s not that Van Ostern is not campaigning and making appearances. In fact, just this week, he participated in the NECN Gubernatorial Debate on Wednesday and the Bi-State Primary Care Forum on Thursday. But the problem is that he’s not getting a lot of attention when big name politicians come through the Granite State.

Yard signs in Durham, N.H. show support for Hillary Clinton, Maggie Hassan and Carol-Shea-Porter, but not a sign for Colin Van Ostern for governor. (Photo Credit: Kyle Plantz/NH Journal)

Yard signs in Durham, N.H. show support for Hillary Clinton, Maggie Hassan and Carol-Shea-Porter, but not a sign for Colin Van Ostern for governor. (Photo Credit: Kyle Plantz/NH Journal)


He did introduce Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine at a rally in Exeter in mid-September and appear on stage with him. But that’s about all the love he’s received from the bigwigs.

An awkward moment for Van Ostern came last week when Hillary Clinton and her primary rival, Bernie Sanders, appeared at the University of New Hampshire to discuss college affordability in their first joined campaign event.

While Gov. Maggie Hassan and former Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter were there to introduce the Democratic presidential nominee and the Vermont senator and encourage attendees to vote for them in November, Van Ostern wasn’t there and did not get a shout-out from Clinton.

“Now, we’re going to need some help in Washington,” Clinton told the crowd. “And I hope New Hampshire will send your now-Governor Maggie Hassan to Washington as your senator. And I sure hope you will send Carol Shea Porter back to Washington.”

Reporters took note of the lack of mention of Van Ostern and Rep. Annie Kuster, despite the two being fervent Clinton supporters.

WMUR followed up with Van Ostern’s campaign to see why he wasn’t at the event. A spokesman said the candidate had a scheduling conflict, “but we’re proud to have stood with Secretary Clinton when she was last in the state, and Colin campaigned with Sen. Tim Kaine last week.”

Although Van Ostern did campaign with Kaine, the Virginia senator is not necessarily helping his visibility problem. Actually, most people still don’t know who the vice presidential nominees are at all.

In a recent ABC News poll, 41 percent of respondents could not identify GOP vice presidential nominee Mike Pence and 46 percent could not identify Kaine.

And Van Ostern’s spokesman also said he stood with Clinton the last time she was in the state. Clinton was in Portsmouth in July when Sanders endorsed her. But Van Ostern was in the middle of a primary against Mark Connolly and Steve Marchand, so he did not give a speech like Hassan or Sen. Jeanne Shaheen did since there was no gubernatorial nominee yet.

Another awkward moment for Van Ostern occurred when Sen. Elizabeth Warren was in the state on September 24 to campaign for Clinton. The Democratic gubernatorial nominee was in attendance at the rally and gave a speech before the Massachusetts senator.

However, she left his name out when encouraging people to vote for Democrats in the Granite State.

“First, I want to say thanks to New Hampshire voters for sending us Jeanne Shaheen in the Senate,” Warren said. “And thanks for being the state who will send Maggie Hassan to Washington and who will elect Hillary Clinton. I am here for Carol, Maggie and Hillary, three tough, smart women who will fight every day to build a future for all Americans. Now we need all of you.”

On Clinton’s website though, there is an advanced copy of Warren’s speech “as transcribed.” She did make changes and deviations from the original transcript, according to analysis of news articles from various media outlets. While she doesn’t mention Van Ostern at the rally, she was supposed to say his name since it was in her prepared remarks.

“And thank you friends from Massachusetts who are here to help our friends in New Hampshire. I also want to say a very special thank you to Carol Shea-Porter and Colin Van Ostern for your public service,” Warren was supposed to say in her speech.

The New Hampshire Republican Party was quick to point out the omission of Van Ostern’s name from the speech.

In a press release, they said: “This weekend, Elizabeth Warren was in town for a liberal rallying cry on behalf of Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton, Maggie Hassan and Carol Shea-Porter.What about Democrat gubernatorial nominee Colin Van Ostern? Her lack of enthusiasm – and recognition – didn’t go unnoticed.”

But it’s not unusual for the Democratic gubernatorial nominee to have low voter recognition and still win. Hassan in her first campaign for governor had to get her name out more when she became the nominee, as pointed out by a NHDP spokesman.

In August 2012, Ovide Lamontagne was the only candidate known to a majority of voters in a recent poll and ended up losing to Hassan. reports then that in 2004, two-thirds of Democrats didn’t know about former Gov. John Lynch in his first run.

While more people know Sununu because his father is a former governor and his brother is a former U.S. senator, that doesn’t mean people like him or will support him. But Van Ostern is going to have to campaign differently than Sununu in order to get his name out there more and to pull off a similar 2012 Hassan victory.

Author: Kyle Plantz

Kyle Plantz is a reporter with NH Journal.

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  • Max Abramson

    Neither of my opponents are talking about the corruption in our state government, and especially the judiciary. Neither are talking about the waste, fraud, and abuse in the system. We need to stop Common Core in New Hampshire and get back to local control of the schools. We need stop the militarization of police and violations of our civil liberties. We need to start talking about real issues in this campaign, and it’s not coming from the two executive councilors who personally benefited from the budget fiasco and $12 million in pay raises that came out of that backroom deal between Jasper and Hassan.