By HOLLY RAMER Associated Press

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — State Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes won the Democratic gubernatorial primary, promising to prove the pundits wrong and defeat Republican Gov. Chris Sununu in November.

Feltes, 41, of Concord, defeated Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky, a fellow attorney best known for representing struggling communities in a landmark education funding lawsuit in the 1990s. But Feltes cast himself as the true champion of working families, citing his early career work as a legal aid attorney.

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“I don’t come from a political family and I am not running for governor out of some sense of entitlement,” he said in a statement Wednesday. “I am running for governor to get things done for the working people and working families — they need someone in the corner now, more than ever.”

The race had been too early to call until Wednesday morning, though Feltes claimed victory Tuesday night. He insisted he could beat Sununu, despite the governor’s popularity. A recent Granite State Poll conducted by the UNH Survey Center showed seven in 10 voters approve of Sununu’s overall job performance and three-quarters approve of his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I know the pollsters and the pundits think this a long shot, but we’ve proved them wrong before and I believe in the people, not the pundits,” Feltes said.

Feltes also emphasized his record in the Senate, where he helped pass a state budget that included the biggest increase in education funding in two decades and sponsored legislation on paid family medical leave, clean energy and worker protection. But many of his bills were vetoed by Sununu, including the paid leave bill Republicans characterized as an income tax.

“With the dust finally settled from their bitter intra-party squabbling, New Hampshire Democrats today nominated a candidate for governor whose only claim to fame is trying — and failing — to force an income tax on Granite State families, not once, but twice,” Sununu campaign manager Paul Collins said in a statement. “Dan Feltes has never managed anything in his life and is clearly unprepared to lead our state.”

One of the key differences between Feltes and Volinsky was education funding. While Feltes took the traditional pledge to veto a sales or income tax, saying closing corporate loopholes would provide enough revenue to boost funding for schools, Volinsky said all options should be on the table. The education funding lawsuit he litigated led to rulings that firmly established the state’s obligation to provide and pay for an adequate education, and the lack of progress since then drove him into the governor’s race.

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Volinsky insisted his refusal to take the pledge made him competitive rather than costing him the nomination.

“Adults in our state can finally have the conversation we should’ve had for decades about how we raise money for our schools, protect our vulnerable seniors, and help businesses start and grow,” he said at a news conference Wednesday during which he promised to help Feltes campaign. “The pledge is broken and gone.”

Sununu, who is seeking a third term, defeated longtime conservative activist Karen Testerman, of Franklin, and Nobody, a Keene man who officially changed his name from Rich Paul.

“We put a great team together for our state and provided the leadership necessary to guide New Hampshire through these unprecedented times,” Sununu said Tuesday. “Many of our biggest challenges still lay ahead, and in 2021 New Hampshire will need the management experience to promote businesses, keep our state safe, and invigorate economic opportunity for families.”

The son of a former governor, Sununu was the youngest governor in the country when he took office in 2017 at age 42. While fellow Republicans held a majority in the Legislature during his first term, Democrats won majorities in 2018, prompting him to set a record for vetoed legislation.

Sununu has been a supporter of President Donald Trump, though he did not attend the president’s recent rally in Londonderry beyond greeting him as he arrived. Trump lost New Hampshire to Hillary Clinton in 2016, and Democrats hold all four seats in the state’s Congressional delegation.

“One thing is clear: Chris Sununu and Donald Trump now officially share the same ticket and Sununu won’t be able to hide how his loyalty to Trump comes at Granite Staters’ expense,” said New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley. “Granite Staters know that Chris Sununu is loyal to Donald Trump and not to them, and in November, Granite Staters will show both of them the door.”

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