By John Celock
The next governor of New Hampshire will take over the distinction of being the nation’s youngest sitting governor.
Executive Councilors Colin Van Ostern and Chris Sununu, captured the Democratic and Republican nominations respectively Tuesday, in the race to succeed Gov. Maggie Hassan (D). The general election race pits the 37-year-old Van Ostern against the 41-year-old Sununu. Currently South Carolina Nikki Haley (R), 44, is the nation’s youngest governor, a title she’s held since taking office in 2011.
Van Ostern, a longtime political operative who was elected to the Executive Council in 2012, easily defeated two opponents in the Democratic primary Tuesday evening. Van Ostern has been viewed as the leading Democratic candidate in the race since Hassan announced last year that she was not seeking a third term as governor in order to challenge U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R) this year.
Sununu narrowly defeated businessman Frank Edelblut in a four-way GOP primary Tuesday evening. A resort owner and son of former Gov. John Sununu (R), Sununu was elected to the Executive Council in 2010.
The Executive Council serves as a board of directors of state government, approving gubernatorial nominations and most state contracts, along with drafting transportation plans and providing advice to the governor, with five elected counselors meeting weekly with the governor. Sununu and Van Ostern, along with Councilor Chris Pappas (D), comprised the Council’s first ever under 40 majority following the 2012 election.
The race between Van Ostern and Sununu promises to remain competitive in swing state New Hampshire. While Republicans control both houses of the state Legislature and one U.S. Senate seat, Democrats have controlled the governorship since former Gov. John Lynch (D) unseated former Gov. Craig Benson (R) in 2004. The GOP had historically controlled New Hampshire’s governorship, with only two Democrats winning the governor’s office between Gov. Fred Brown leaving office in 1925 and Gov. Jeanne Shaheen being elected in 1996. Shaheen left office in 2002 to unsuccessfully seek a Senate seat against Sununu’s brother, John. Shaheen then unseated Sen. John Sununu in the 2008 election.
New Hampshire’s youngest governor was Republican Hugh Gregg, who was 35 when he was elected to a single two-year term in 1952. Most New Hampshire governors served a single term, or two terms through history, a trend broken by Republican Meldrim Thompson in the 1970s. Lynch, who served eight years, is the state’s longest serving governor.
Haley has been the nation’s youngest governor since she was first elected, taking the title from former Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), who is seven months older than Haley. Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D), 45, is the nation’s second youngest governor and the youngest governor in New England. Eric Greitens, the Republican gubernatorial nominee in Missouri, is just over six months older than Sununu.
Stevens Mason was 23 when he became the governor of Michigan Territory in 1834 and he became the state’s first governor when Michigan achieved statehood in 1837. Former Massachusetts Gov. Jane Swift (R) became the nation’s youngest female governor when she succeeded to the office in 2001 at the age of 36. Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles (R), 32, is the nation’s youngest statewide elected official.