Established Democrats have found themselves under siege from the left this year, with several prominent lawmakers falling to more liberal challengers. Molly Kelly, a former state senator, avoided that fate in New Hampshire on Tuesday night, defeating a progressive opponent to become the 15th woman to win her primary for governor this season.
But in November, Ms. Kelly, 68, will be a decided underdog: Her Republican opponent, Chris Sununu, is one of the most popular governors in the country.
Like most politicians, however, she is optimistic about her chances and undaunted by the challenge ahead.
Ms. Kelly spoke to The Times about her victory, New Hampshire’s history of voting for women and what she thinks about President Trump.
The following is an edited and condensed version of the conversation.
Q. Congratulations again on your big win. Were you out late celebrating?
A. It was a great night and an evening with so many friends and supporters and my family. But you know, the most important thing is we are up ready to go this morning.
Where in the state are you this morning?
We’ve headed out to Manchester to meet with voters and start campaigning.
No rest for the weary?
No, I don’t think we could anyway. I’m excited, and this is where we wanted to be this morning. So I am happy to be busy and back campaigning.
This is a state that Senator Bernie Sanders won in the presidential primary by 22 points. But in a year when some Democrats are losing to more progressive candidates, you bucked that trend. Why do you think that was? Is New Hampshire over Bernie-ism?
No, Sydney. I have been progressive my entire life, before I was in the State Senate and during the State Senate. I think that the voters clearly saw that. I have championed women’s rights, women’s reproductive rights, my entire life and will continue as governor to ensure that New Hampshire does not go backwards on reproductive rights.
Being progressive, being bold is not new to me.
Does it say something specifically, culturally, about New Hampshire that voters seem to be willing to elect women?
I think they trust women. We have been out there working hard. I have throughout my career as well. I think we have worked hard, and also our messages about putting people first, making sure the economy works for everyone, not just a few, is important.
Today as well, I truly believe that women will not be silenced, and they were not last night.
You are 68 and running against one of the most popular governors in the country. Why are you doing this to yourself?
Oh, I am not doing this to myself. I am doing this for the people I represent and will serve here in this state. We think about paid family medical leave as an issue and a bill that I will make a reality for the people here in New Hampshire. We have Chris Sununu who calls it a vacation.
I am moving forward with 100 percent renewable [energy] so that we have clean air, clean water — making sure that all future generations live in a climate and environment that’s healthy for them. These are the things I’m focusing on.
It sounds as if you are not daunted by your opponent in the general election?
Look, I’ve been underestimated before. And I think it’s a clear message to Chris Sununu and others as well: Do not underestimate me.
I’ve been underestimated when I was a young single mom with three small children, raising them myself and making sure that I could go back and finish my education, and living on a college campus with my children and taking on all of those challenges and raising them myself and working my way through college. I managed an apartment complex that my children and I lived in and then I waitressed one night a week at Papa Gino’s and even had a rural paper route in Peterborough, New Hampshire. I know what challenges are about, and I was underestimated then and rose to that occasion, took on those challenges. I am not afraid of a challenge when I know it’s the right thing to do.
How much help from Democratic Party leaders do you expect to get?
I think the Democrats are going to all come together after last night. I know that they are. I’m hearing from them during the evening and all day today.
Who have you heard from specifically?
We would be here way too long, Sydney, if I started to make a list for you. Just do know that it is leaders in our state, leaders in our community, which is most important. National leaders as well. We are energized.
I wouldn’t be surprised if some potential 2020 candidates campaigned this fall with you.
We live in New Hampshire. It’s a very political state, and people do come here and pound those sidewalks. So we’ll see what happens.
Let’s talk about this election cycle’s elephant in the room. What do you think of President Trump?
I can’t think of one thing I would agree with him on. As governor, if there are opportunities and funding to our state to deal with — issues like the opioid epidemic and that are in the best interest of the people of New Hampshire — I’m sure I would work with federal agencies to make that happen.
I think you said earlier this year that you would be willing to work with the White House, feelings about Mr. Trump aside. Do you still feel that way?
If there is some funding that is in the best interest of the state in regard to the opioid epidemic, of course, because my priorities are the people here in New Hampshire.
What about the economy? The president likes to say it is “the strongest it’s ever been in the history of our country.” Are people in New Hampshire feeling this?
The economy is not working for everybody in New Hampshire.
I want to fund public education and invest in job training, invest in our work force. That’s what’s important to me. People are telling me that they are looking for change, and if the economy is not working for them, they want to see a governor who will work for them and make sure that we have a livable wage and children have health care and families do, and access to quality education.
Lots of voters say that a key issue for them is gun control. Where do you stand on this?
I’ve always supported common sense gun safety. Our children need to be able to leave and go to school and know that they’re safe.
I have four children, and believe me, I didn’t worry about if they would be affected by gun violence when they walked into school. But today, Sydney, I have seven grandchildren and I worry about them every single day. So I’m not going to wait until a tragedy happens here in New Hampshire. We’re going to make sure that we support common sense gun safety.
It doesn’t sound as if you’re in favor of repealing the Second Amendment.
No, of course not. What I am supporting is common sense gun safety and particularly making sure our children are safe in our schools.
What else is on the agenda for today?
We’re talking to a lot of people like yourself and getting a lot of phone calls. And boy, I’m going to be glad to meet with some voters and have a cup of coffee with them this morning.
If I were you, I would definitely need a cup of coffee.
I hope you’ve had one already.
Sydney Ember is a political reporter based in New York. She was previously a business reporter covering print and digital media. @melbournecoal