Colin Van Ostern, the failed 2016 Democratic nominee for New Hampshire governor, announced his intention this week to unseat a fellow Democrat for collaborating with the Trump administration to prevent voter fraud.
Van Ostern officially launched his campaign against the state’s top election official, Secretary of State Bill Gardner, invoking the latter’s participation in President Donald Trump’s defunct voter fraud commission as a rallying call, the Concord Monitor reported Tuesday.
On Wednesday, in a tweet announcing his candidacy, Van Ostern said he was running to “protect voting rights,” “fight back against false attacks” by Trump, and protect New Hampshire’s elections.
It’s time to elect New Hampshire’s first new Secretary of State in 44 years—and I’m ready to run.
To protect voting rights, to fight back against the false attacks from our President, and to protect our elections, we need your help.
— Colin Van Ostern (@ColinVanOstern) March 14, 2018
Van Ostern’s website, although never mentioning Gardner by name, offers a searing indictment of the man he hopes to succeed. The website states that the only way “protect and strengthen free and fair” elections in New Hampshire is by ensuring the election of a new secretary of state.
Gardner has served as secretary of state since 1976, becoming the face of New Hampshire’s first in the nation presidential primary. The secretary of state is elected by a majority of the state legislature, currently under Republican control. Gardner, who has been returned to office overwhelmingly by both parties, is generally seen as a fair and competent administrator.
In recent years, Gardner has angered progressive Democrats for accepting an appointment to Trump’s now-defunct voter fraud commission. Garnder has also backed legislation by Republican lawmakers to ensure that individuals voting in New Hampshire are legal residents of the state. Democrats lambasted the proposal, stating its intention was to disenfranchise college students–those who live out of state but study in New Hampshire–from voting.
Van Ostern’s campaign, only hours old, has already garnered the backing of New Hampshire’s Democratic leadership. State Rep. Steve Shurtleff, the Democratic leader in the New Hampshire House of Representatives, and his counterpart in the state Senate, Sen. Jeff Woodburn, have signaled their support. It is unclear if Van Ostern will be able to convince a majority of the legislature to side with him next January.
While confirming that he would seek another term, Gardner took a swipe at Van Ostern’s motivation for seeking the position. Declaring his commitment to remaining politically neutral and not seek higher office, Gardner implied that Van Ostern only saw secretary of state as a stepping stone.
“From the first time I ran, I have never taken a contribution,” Gardner said. “I have never solicited donations; I’ve never been involved politically like that. Because when I ran the first time, I made a commitment that I would not use it as a stepping stone for another political office. I would never do that. And I wasn’t running as if it is a political office.”
Van Ostern was the Democratic nominee for Governor of New Hampshire in 2016. He came up 20,000 votes short, becoming the first Democrat to lose the governor’s mansion since 2002. Van Ostern’s vote total in 2016 underperformed presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Sen. Maggie Hassan (D.), who both carried the state marginally over their Republican opponents.
Van Ostern originally contemplated seeking a rematch with incumbent Republican Gov. Chris Sununu this year; however, the idea faltered when polls showed a strong majority of New Hampshire voters approved of the governor.