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Campaign ’86: Seabrook Plant Dominates New Hampshire Governor’s Race - Again

September 5, 1986

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) _ Republican Gov. John Sununu’s opponents hope his steadfast support for nuclear power will bring him down in the aftermath of the Chernobyl accident and the scare over a possible atomic waste dump in New Hampshire.

Three Democrats and Sununu’s sole GOP challenger in the Sept. 9 primaries are campaigning largely on their opposition to the Seabrook nuclear power plant, which has now been completed.

But Sununu is considered tough to beat, despite expected large Seabrook rate increases and heightened public awareness of nuclear safety issues in the wake of the Chernobyl accident in the Soviet Union and the waste dump controversy here.

Campaign finance statements filed in mid-August showed him with nearly three times as much cash as the four other contenders combined.

The two-term incumbent, a former engineering professor, has barely acknowledged being in a campaign. Last month, at his first joint appearance with Republican primary challenger Roger Easton, Sununu ignored Easton’s call for a debate and refused even to acknowledge Easton’s presence.

Sununu, 47, instead hammers away at his effectiveness in managing state government and his conversion of a $40 million state budget deficit into a surplus.

Sununu takes credit for the state’s burgeoning economy and lowest-in-the- nati on unemployment rate, which he says make New Hampshire ″the envy of the other 49 states.″

Easton, 65, a state representative from Canaan and a retired electrical engineer, has attacked Sununu as a ″pied piper of growth.″ Two of the three Democratic contenders also have cautioned voters about the impact of the economic boom on New Hampshire’s resources. But nuclear issues have dominated the campaign.

Early this year, the U.S. Department of Energy announced it was studying a site in south-central New Hampshire for underground storage of high-level nuclear wastes, mostly spent fuel rods from power plants. That issue subsided in May, when the department decided the country initially needed only one waste dump, to be situated in the West.

While the dump search focused attention on nuclear plant waste, the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl in late April dramatically called attention to nuclear plant safety. With Seabrook likely to begin operating in the spring at 10 times over budget and eight years behind schedule, Easton and the Democrats have made the plant an economic and consumer issue, though their approaches have differed.

Bruce Anderson, 39, an energy consultant and publisher from Harrisville making his first bid for public office, says his two Democratic primary opponents have an ″Alice in Wonderland″ approach to Seabrook. He has lost favor with some anti-nuclear activists by stating that Seabrook probably cannot be stopped by anyone, and certainly not by a governor.

Anderson also steers clear of emotional references to Chernobyl and broad attacks on nuclear energy. Instead, he stresses efforts to find ways to convert Seabrook into a plant that burns oil, gas or coal.

Like Anderson, lawyer Paul McEachern, 48, of Portsmouth, first campaigned on his opposition to the nuclear dump, then switched gears when DOE halted the search. McEachern has promised that as governor he would prevent Seabrook from operating by withdrawing state approval for plans to evacuate people from surrounding towns in case of a major accident.

This is McEachern’s second try for the nomination. He lost to former House Democratic Leader Chris Spirou two years ago when he did not take the no-tax ″pledge″ traditional for gubernatorial contenders in New Hampshire, one of two states with neither a general sales nor a general income tax. This year, McEachern took the pledge.

The other Democratic contender is Paul Gagnon, 37, top prosecutor in the state’s most populous county and a resident of its largest city, Manchester.

Gagnon hit McEachern’s switch on the no-tax pledge, and McEachern returned fire when Gagnon made a failed attempt to win an injunction against low-power testing of Seabrook.

The Seabrook focus of the campaign mirrors the 1984 strategy of Democrat Spirou, whose 2-to-1 loss to Sununu made the election the most lopsided gubernatorial contest in state history. But if someone were to ride the Seabrook issue to an upset win, the feat would not be without precedent.

In 1978, two years after Seabrook construction began, Democrat Hugh Gallen defeated three-term Republican incumbent Meldrim Thomson. Many credited Gallen’s win to his persistent attacks on advance billings to customers for Seabrook financing charges.

But Gallen was defeated by Sununu four years later.

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