Election 2018: Sanborn, Edwards feud dominates 1st District GOP race

  • Eddie Edwards, a Republican candidate for New Hampshire's 1st Congressional District, points to a stack of transcripts released by the attorney general's office last month that include accusations of harassment against his opponent, Andy Sanborn. Ethan DeWitt / Monitor file

  • State Sen. Andy Sanborn (left) Jim Cole

  • Andy Sanborn and Eddie Edwards earlier this summer. Paul Steinhauser—

Monitor staff
Published: 9/5/2018 5:43:05 PM

Voters choosing between the  Republicans running in the 1st Congressional District will have to decide which candidate they believe.

The two top contenders – Dover’s Eddie Edwards and Bedford’s Andy Sanborn – have traded shots all summer long and accused each other of lying.

Edwards has painted Sanborn as a serial harasser unfit for Congress.

Sanborn, a four-term state senator and businessman who owns The Draft sports bar and grill in downtown Concord, accused Edwards of fabricating “lies about me and making things up that he actually knows are not true.”

Edwards fired back, saying, “I am not the one who started this.”

“I tried to run a campaign that was focused on character and integrity. That’s where I wanted to be. Sen. Sanborn started, just literally, making up lies. And at some point you have to defend yourself,” added Edwards, a Navy veteran who later served as police chief in the town of South Hampton, chief enforcement officer for the state liquor commission, and as a business consultant and lobbyist.

The ill will culminated during a surreal New Hampshire GOP organized debate last month, when Edwards was asked to step off the stage after refusing to sign a party unity pledge amid chants and screams from both candidates’ supporters. The pledge included a provision mandating that whoever lost the primary would support the Republican nominee.

While both candidates have tried to outdo each other in proving they’re the true conservative in the race, the sniping’s had little to do with the issues. Instead, the crossfire between the two campaigns centers on past controversies.

Chief among them, Sanborn’s conduct in the state Senate. The attorney general’s office investigated whether Senate leadership attempted to cover up “crass” comments Sanborn made to an intern in 2013. That investigation revealed no wrongdoing on the part of top officials, and Sanborn was also cleared.

But the probe, which involved 18 witnesses, did capture a series of accusations from Sanborn’s tenure in the Senate.

Batches of transcripts from the investigation have been released sporadically all summer, which stem from a “crass” comment Sanborn is accused of making about oral sex in front of a Senate intern, and another sexual comment he made to a male staffer about a female staffer. There was also testimony from a female legislative aide – her name redacted – who said she was subjected to “almost daily” comments from Sanborn on the way she dressed and looked, and that she had felt uncomfortable and changed her attire in response.

Throughout all of the releases, Sanborn consistently denied wrongdoing and the lawmaker – considered an outsider among many Senate Republicans – accused the chamber’s GOP establishment of ginning up charges to take down his campaign.

Sanborn told the Monitor last month that “it was looked into five years ago and everyone said ‘no one did anything wrong.’ It was a joke and I responded to it.”

He added that now that he’s running for Congress, “people want to ask the same questions.”

And taking aim at the media, he asked “has there ever been a charge. Has anyone ever filed a report. Has anyone ever felt uncomfortable and the answer to that is no. No one has ever filed a complaint. No one has ever filed a report. This is literally as fake as it is.”

The Edwards campaign has highlighted the controversy.

Along with his high-profile refusal to take the party’s unity pledge, Edward last week said at a news conference that “we have a senator, in my opinion, who has demonstrated predatory behavior in our state house for quite some time.”

“If you read through these documents you will find that Sen. Sanborn has a difficult time controlling himself around young people,” Edwards added, referring to the released transcripts from the investigation.

Edwards called Sanborn’s behavior appalling.

“If you’re asking me if I believe Sen. Sanborn has a lack of integrity, absolutely,” Edwards said. “There is no question in anybody’s mind that a person who does not acknowledge what sexual harassment is, is not fit to run in a general election.”

But Edwards’ record at the Liquor Commission, his settlement with the commission, his tenure on a nonprofit board that funded Planned Parenthood, and allegations that he received payments in connection with lobbying while he was on the staff of then Congressman Frank Guinta, have been spotlighted by Sanborn’s campaign this summer.

“I have pushed back on more regulation probably than any senator in modern times,” Sanborn said. “And we know for a fact that the bills that Eddie Edwards championed when he was a government bureaucrat tried to increase regulation and tried to increase restrictions and difficulty on the business community.”

And highlighting Edwards departure from the state liquor commission, Sanborn alleged his rival “got kicked out” and was “forced to resign from the state of New Hampshire and told he could never come back to employment in the state.”

Edwards, who if elected would become New Hampshire’s first African-American member of Congress, filed a complaint with the state’s Commission on Human Rights after saying he endured four years of frequent comments of a racial nature. After the case languished for years, Edwards signed a settlement in 2013 with the attorney general’s office. He received a $160,000 payment and a letter of reference from the Liquor Commission in exchange for agreeing to never seek employment with the commission again.

Edwards is backed by some of the top members of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign in New Hampshire. Many of them were with Edwards in Portsmouth last month when the candidate stood alongside former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and received the endorsement from the former GOP presidential candidate who now serves as a top attorney and cable news surrogate for President Donald Trump.

Edwards praised Trump, saying “the president’s doing one hell of a job in Washington.”

The 1st Congressional District is one of just 12 across the country won by Trump in the 2016 election that is currently held by Democrats.

Sanborn has noted that he was endorsed last year by Granite Stater Corey Lewandowski, who served as Trump’s campaign manager for much of the 2016 cycle and remains close with the president. And he’s repeatedly touted that he’s the “proven conservative” in the race.

While their disagreements have captured the spotlight, Sanborn and Edwards agree on many issues. Both highlight cutting government spending and taxes, supporting free market capitalism, enhancing border security and preserving Second Amendment rights. And while they’ve attacked each other’s records on the issue of abortion and funding for Planned Parenthood, both tout their “pro-life” stances.

Other candidates who will take the stage during Thursday’s debate at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics will be Michael Callis of Conway, Jeffery Denaro of Auburn and Andy Martin of Manchester. They’ll be vying to replace retiring Democratic Rep. Carol Shea-Porter of Rochester.

Callis, a longshot who ran for president in 2004 and is now making his third run for Congress. The self-employed stone mason believes he’s one of the few GOP candidates willing to stand up to Trump. Also debating are Martin, a perennial candidate and prolific filer of lawsuits, and Denaro.

The winner of the Sept. 11 primary will face off in November’s general election against one of the 11 Democrats running for their party’s nomination. There is also a Libertarian – Dan Belforti of Portsmouth – running in the race to succeed Shea-Porter.

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