Race heats up to replace Sen. Fuller Clark

PORTSMOUTH — Two of the biggest political names in the city aren’t running to succeed retiring longtime state Sen. Martha Fuller Clark, but a former city councilor is jumping into the race and a current council member is mulling a bid.

Soon after the 78-year-old Fuller Clark’s announcement last week, former two-term Portsmouth city councilor Rebecca Perkins Kwoka told Seacoast Media Group that she was “very strongly considering” a run for the top state Senate seat, adding that “a lot of people have reached to me.”

On Wednesday, as the formal filing period kicked off for candidates to place the names in the September primary ballot, and Perkins Kwoka made it official. She is seeking the Democratic nomination in State Senate District 21, serving Durham, Lee, Madbury, Newfields, Newington, Newmarket and Portsmouth.

The general counsel and vice president for Portsmouth-based solar development firm Sun Raise Investments and mother to an 8-month-old baby wrote, “I have the skills and experience necessary to carefully sort through the details that will need to be addressed in the coming months and years – and the compassion to make sure that we carry our most vulnerable forward along with everyone else. I am running for State Senate to drive recovery from the pandemic, continue my work on affordable and workforce housing, and bring more renewable energy to the state.”

Even before she announced her candidacy, Perkins Kwoka won praise from a list of influential former and current Portsmouth political leaders. Former Portsmouth mayors Jack Blalock, Steve Marchand, and Eric Spear, current city councilor Cliff Lazenby, and former city councilors Josh Denton, Chris Dwyer, Nancy Pearson, and Ned Raynolds all signed on to a letter encouraging Perkins Kwoka to run and pledging to support her if she launched a campaign.

Perkins Kwoka may soon have company in the Democratic nomination race.

First-term Portsmouth City Councilor Deaglan McEachern told Seacoast Media Group Wednesday that he’s seriously considering a bid to succeed Fuller Clark.

The Portsmouth native said he wanted “to make sure I could do it as well as serving on the council because I feel like I’m helping my hometown through this COVID crisis” with his council service.

McEachern, an executive at a digital company Yext, has politics in his blood. His father, Paul McEachern, was a longtime Democratic activist who was his party’s gubernatorial nominee in the 1986 and 1988 elections. The younger McEachern ran for the open seat in the 1st Congressional District in 2018, in a race won by then-Executive Councilor Chris Pappas.

McEachern said he had planned to back former city councilor and current Portsmouth Police Commission member Stefany Shaheen if she had launched a campaign. He said he only started seriously considering a run after Shaheen announced Tuesday evening she will not run for state Senate.

There was plenty of speculation whether Shaheen, a former city councilor and daughter of U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Democratic National Committee member from New Hampshire Bill Shaheen, would run during the same year her mother is running for re-election to the Senate.

The younger Shaheen, an executive at Good Measures LLC, said in a statement that “I remain committed to doing everything possible to get Democrats elected up and down the ballot, unfortunately I’m unable to jump into this race. I have made professional commitments and have obligations to my family that must take priority at this time.”

Another well-known name not only in the Seacoast region but across the state also decided against launching a campaign. Former state House Speaker Terie Norelli told the Seacoast Media Group last week that she will not run to succeed Fuller Clark.

“Martha actually recruited me to run for the House in 1996. It was a great honor to serve the Portsmouth community in Concord and to serve the House as speaker during turbulent times. I’m proud of our accomplishments,” Norelli said in a statement. “Now I look forward to supporting another Democratic senator.”

While the blue district heavily leans toward the Democrats, there was some speculation that former state Sen. Dan Innis from neighboring District 24 might consider a bid, since he now lives in Lee, on the western edge of District 21.

But Innis told the Seacoast Media Group last week that “I made a decision not to run for anything this cycle and I’m sticking with that decision.”

A leading Seacoast area conservative activist who asked for anonymity to speak more freely said that conversations are underway with roughly five potential contenders mulling bids in the District 21 race.

The clock’s ticking. The filing period for the September primary ballot ends June 12.

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