Manchester - Voters yesterday picked Mayor Frank Guinta to lead the city for another two years, punching his ticket to a second term in the corner office. "I've got to tell you, this is one heck of a feeling," Guinta said last night in a celebratory rally downtown.
Guinta topped the ballot with 54 percent of the vote, taking 11 of the city's 12 wards. His tally, 10,321 votes, put him well ahead of his Democratic opponent, attorney and former school board member Tom Donovan, who garnered 8,842 votes, or 46 percent.
Donovan was conciliatory at his own post-election rally at the Puritan Backroom conference room, telling supporters, "Our view didn't win tonight, but it's important for us to continue fighting for what we believe in."
With his latest victory, Guinta remains unbeaten in New Hampshire elections. His margin of victory last night was significantly wider than the narrow majority that propelled him to office in 2005. Guinta, the Republican challenger, won that election over three-term Mayor Bob Baines by 528 votes.
This time, Guinta had his own record to run on, and his opponent attacked it vigorously. Awaiting Guinta at the Piccola Italia banquet room last night, many Republicans described the mayor's victory as a sign that voters will not be swayed by partisan potshots.
"It means the negative stuff is out. It doesn't work," said Jerry Thibodeau, chairman of the city Republican party.
Guinta himself took a shot at the opposition in his victory speech last night, saying, "People are tired of the partisanship. They are tired of politicians trying to tear people down."
One woman, referencing Democratic mailers featuring unflattering photos of Guinta, usually with his hair mussed, interrupted the mayor's speech to shout, "Fix your hair!"
At the Puritan Backroom, supporters greeted Donovan with sustained applause. His family, working hard to hold back tears, stood by his side as he conceded the race to Guinta.
"A few minutes ago I called Mayor Guinta and offered him congratulations on winning the mayor's race, and he was very gracious in his remarks back to me," Donovan said.
"Over the past four months, I traveled around every neighborhood and spoke to literally thousands of residents. I've come to learn even more about our residents and I've come to love this city even more."
Recent months saw a brawl of a campaign, marked by testy debates and allegations of "gutter politics." Though the election is officially nonpartisan, both parties took their swipes; Democrats barraged residents' mailboxes with anti-Guinta fliers, while Republicans launched a Web site slamming Donovan's record on the school board.
Guinta was an especially big target for Democrats. After last year, when Republicans in Concord and Washington were categorically swept from office, state GOP chairman Fergus Cullen dubbed Guinta the "last Republican standing."
Donovan got a late start in the race but made up ground with an aggressive fund-raising effort, pulling in $144,000 as of early last week. Of that, Donovan himself contributed about $16,000.
Guinta last night said his campaign raised close to $300,000.
In Ward 6, where the rolls are evenly split among Democrats, Republicans and independents, a number of residents who cast their votes for Guinta said they did not know much about his opponent.
"This is the first time I've heard of Donovan," said Gary Blais, 61, an independent who voted for the Democratic incumbent two years ago. "Does he have experience in the political field or not? I wasn't sure."
He added, "Our mayor right now has the experience."
In interviews outside city polling places yesterday, Guinta's support appeared to transcend party lines. Elaine Kelley, a Democrat who backed Guinta, said, "It's not about the party. It's about the man."
New Hampshire Union Leader Staff Writer Carol Robidoux contributed to this report.