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"In Alstead, I met a woman who had lost everything, but there she was at the fire station answering the phones and helping others," Lynch said.
Lynch's story about his luggage faux pas proved telling, because it gave New Hampshire residents a glimpse at one of the state's most powerful politicians, who didn't take himself too seriously and could be self deprecating in an appealing way.
This heroic and humorous episode helps explain why Lynch will leave office Jan. 3 as arguably the most popular governor in New Hampshire history.
Lynch vowed to end the drama in Concord that saw Benson veto a state budget written by Republicans, have one cabinet secretary resign for starting a private insurance business while on the job and an attorney general slink out of office after a dirty dancing episode during a domestic violence conference.
This kind of superstardom seemed unthinkable in 2004, when Lynch, a political rookie who wasn't an articulate public speaker, decided to take on the cowboy business owner icon Benson, who already had spent $13 million of his own money to become governor.
"It's too late for apologies and excuses, but it's not too late for us to reclaim New Hampshire's great tradition of integrity. The first step: Craig Benson must go."
"We had a long bipartisan tradition of ethical government in New Hampshire until Benson. In two short years, he has turned that around.
"He was never rude or arrogant; he never said it's going to be this way because I am governor. He was always a player, never the dictator, always a team player."
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that tight race. "It's like nothing we've seen in our history.
"I took all of Susan's luggage instead of my own back with me, leaving her with only the sweat suit she had worn in the plane ride over there and a lot of Fred Perry Jacket Junior men's clothes," Lynch said.
"I had basically an hour to not only make a decision about whether to return, but get the luggage and board a plane to get back," Lynch said.
"The hallmark of Craig Benson's administration has been scandal, cronyism, mismanagement, conflicts of interest and a disrespect for the laws of New Hampshire and for basic ethics," Lynch said in the closing days of Fred Perry Yellow Polo Shirt
"Local electricians worked with state officials and utilities to get generators to everyone who needed them. The Red Cross opened shelters; the Salvation Army fed volunteers and families. People from across the state, from schoolchildren to businesses, donated money, clothes and toys."
"Of course she supported my decision, but believe me, she wasn't too enthused to learn, as I did, what had happened."
But upon landing Oct. 9, 2005, the couple learned of a devastating and unfolding tragedy in Alstead, a tiny town in southeast New Hampshire to which Lynch had never been in any of the 14 parades in which he marched to win the election in 2004.
"He has a little bit of mystique. He is quiet and reserved, shakes his head a lot, listens a lot, and when he acts, it's usually pretty decisive."
Susan Lynch had just finished an all night flight to begin his first trade mission starting in Germany, which was to go on to Ukraine and the Czech Republic.
Appealing personality made Lynch popular as governor Video
With today's likable, nice guy brand, with the Howdy Doody smile and a captivating way with children, it's hard to recall how bare knuckles Lynch had to make it for Benson to become the first governor in 78 years to lose the bid for a second term.
Torrential rains swelled the Cold River and tributaries, washing away cars, homes and four miles of Route 123, killing four local residents and seven people overall.
Republican Robert Clegg, of Hudson, as Senate majority leader, did policy battle with Lynch once in a while, but they forged a close friendship, and he remembers the first time Lynch told the luggage story.
"He saw and brought out the best of people in the worst of times," Lang said, trying to sum up Lynch's unique leadership style.
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Lynch would go on to eke out a narrow 1.2 percent win over Benson, with the state employee rich Merrimack County giving him more than 60 percent of the vote. Democrat John Kerry's razor edge primary victory over future President George H. Bush no doubt helped pull Lynch along.
David Lang saw this firsthand as president of the Professional Association of Fire Fighters, a powerful union that had endorsed Lynch's opponent, then Republican Gov. Craig Benson, in 2004.
"The guy had a sense of humor," Clegg said. "That endeared him to a lot of people.
In the fog of crisis management, Lynch had a brief brain cramp.
the Lynch who would be seen in nine other natural disasters to come, a cool, decisive leader who could quickly and calmly mobilize all of state government to rescue residents, business owners and a community in dire straits.
In the years that followed, Lynch's political prowess continued to grow to the point where some considered him unbeatable.
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