Front runners have to watch their backs in 1st Congressional Democratic race

  • The Democratic candidates for New Hampshire’s 1st Congressional District debate in Manchester on Thursday. Paul Steinhauser / For the Monitor

For the Monitor
Published: 8/30/2018 10:29:15 PM

With primary day nearing, the summer spectacle in the wide open and wild Democratic nomination battle in the state’s 1st Congressional District is fast coming to a close.

The long-running show that started last autumn but picked up the pace as it grew to a whopping 11 candidates still has a few twists and turns left.

A major plotline in the race has involved the two perceived front-runners trying to fend off the other nine contenders vying to succeed retiring four-term Democratic Rep. Carol Shea-Porter.

At a string of candidate face-offs, Executive Councilor Chris Pappas of Manchester, who enjoys the backing of the state’s most high profile Democratic politicians and labor unions, has come under attack from his rivals for failing to firmly support the Medicare for all single-payer plan.

And Iraq War veteran Maura Sullivan, who served at the Pentagon and the VA under President Barack Obama before moving to Portsmouth a year ago, has been accused of being a carpetbagger. Sullivan, who has vastly outraised all of the other candidates in the race, was attacked for the high percentage of her campaign cash coming from out-of-state contributors.

The fireworks started right at the top of Thursday’s forum in Manchester, the final one organized by the New Hampshire Democratic Party.

“How do we take this party back? We are going to do it by electing actual Democrats and not nominating compromise candidates,” proclaimed Rochester City Attorney and Iraq War veteran Terence O’Rourke.

The Alton resident indirectly jabbed at Pappas and Sullivan as he argued that voters are ready for candidates who push for progressive ideas such as a $15 per hour minimum wage.

While O’Rourke has long targeted Pappas and Sullivan, they also came under attack from two other rivals who have started to fire away.

“Chris Pappas and Maura Sullivan are taking massive amounts of special interest and PAC money,” argued environmental scientist and first-term state Rep. Mindi Messmer of Rye.

“They’re not grassroots, they’re astro-turf,” added Messmer, a progressive lawmaker who’s pushed for environmental bills to deal with the state’s water contamination issues.

Technology executive and community activist Deaglan McEachern of Portsmouth offered some advice to Pappas.

“Stand up on the issues. Stand up for the people,” he said. “If you as the establishment has said the future of our Democratic Party, then stand up and defend it. Defend it against the takeover led by Maura Sullivan.”

And McEachern accused Sullivan, an Illinois native who moved to New Hampshire from the nation’s capital, of shopping around for a congressional district.

“She tried her hand first in Illinois then to Virginia and decided New Hampshire was the place to do district shopping because New Hampshire would be a cheaper state,” he said.

Epping’s Naomi Andrews, who stepped down this spring as Shea-Porter’s longtime chief of staff to run to succeed her boss in Congress, highlighted her years of fighting for campaign finance reform and promised to lead the fight if elected.

“I want politics to be won by the people with the biggest ideas, not with the biggest checks,” she said, indirectly taking on Pappas and Sullivan.

Longshot Paul Cardinal, reaching for common ground, looked at his rivals and said “I’d be proud to support any of them in the general.”

And another longshot, William Martin of Manchester, touted his approach toward campaign finances. 

“I have not taken a dime from anyone” and added that “I believe a New Hampshire election should only be funded by New Hampshire voters.”

Sullivan didn’t respond to most of the incoming fire, but the Marine veteran defended her large fundraising haul, saying “to be clear, I pledged not to take a dime of corporate PAC money in my campaign. I was the first candidate on this stage to pledge not to take a dime of the NRA.”

And as the candidates weighed in on big money in politics and campaign finance reform, she argued that “the best thing that Democrats can do right now to get towards campaign finance reform is we got to win. We have to win in November.”

When Levi Sanders got his first chance to speak, right on cue, the legal services analyst from Claremont highlighted his signature issue as he went on the warpath against Pappas.

As he has all spring and summer long – the son of Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont looked at Pappas and asked “why is it that 80 percent of Democrats support Medicare-for-all single-payer health care and he doesn’t?”

“If we actually elect somebody like Chris Pappas who does not believe in a Medicare-for-all single-payer health care, that will be an embarrassment both to the United States of America as well as the people of New Hampshire,” Sanders claimed.

Pappas ignored the attacks from Sanders, and explained his position without specifics.

“I won’t be satisfied until we live in a country where every single person has access to affordable care,” Pappas said.

He promised to “keep my eye on that goal of achieving universal coverage and look for anyway to get to it. But I think we also have to focus on stopping the assault the Affordable Care Act and the rollback of coverage for tens of millions of Americans.”

Sanders quickly fired back over the idea of access to health care, saying “it’s like you have access to a billion dollars but you can’t get it.”

While taking shots from their rivals, Pappas and Sullivan also indirectly sniped at each other.

Sullivan took aim at Pappas, who’s pegged as the favorite of New Hampshire’s Democratic establishment.

“There are a lot of people that told me not to run, that it wasn’t my time. That this seat belonged to somebody else,” she said. “I’ll tell you I think that women around the country are really, really, tired right now of being told to wait their turn.”

Pappas blasted Sullivan – who’s seen most of her fundraising come from outside of the state – over a fundraising email her campaign put out that touted her as the favorite for the nomination.

“There’s another candidate on this stage who declared herself the Democratic nominee based on one metric alone, out of state fundraising,” Pappas said.

And he argued that “if our elections are settled by the biggest pot of money, then our democracy is toast.”

State Rep. Mark MacKenzie, a former Manchester firefighter who as a union president steered the New Hampshire AFL-CIO for over two decades, once again spotlighted the thinner resumes of his rivals.

Touting his years of fighting for progressive causes, he said “there is nobody in this group who has spent more time in public government.”

Looking at his rivals, he said “welcome to the fight because I have been doing this for 40 years and many of these people I’ve never seen.”

Lincoln Soldati, the retired trial lawyer from Portsmouth served 17 years as Strafford County attorney and is also a former Somersworth mayor, highlighted his progressive chops by spotlighting that he was the first county prosecutor in the state to call for the repeal of the death penalty.

“Many people suggested doing so would end my career as a prosecutor,” Soldati said. “I’m proud to say I was re-elected overwhelmingly.”

The Democratic candidates face off twice more next week, ahead of the September 11 primary.

The fireworks in the Democratic nomination battle, pale in comparison to the vitriol between the two leading contenders for the GOP nomination in the First District – Bedford State  Sen. Andy Sanborn of Bedford and Dover’s Eddie Edwards, a Navy veteran who served as chief law enforcement officer for the state liquor commission and police chief in the small town of South Hampton. 

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