Navy vet, former state rep announces Republican bid for Kuster’s seat

  • Former state representative Lynne Blankenbeker announced her intention Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018, to run for the Republican nomination to challenge Democratic Rep. Annie Kuster in the 2nd Congressional District. Paul Steinhauser / For the Monitor

For the Monitor
Published: 1/10/2018 9:01:01 PM

Lynne Blankenbeker says Granite Staters don’t think conditions have improved after six years of Democratic Rep. Annie Kuster in Washington.

“I think folks here will tell you that they don’t feel like it’s much better since she’s been in Congress,” Blankenbeker told the Monitor on Wednesday, minutes after she’d formally announced her bid for the Republican nomination in New Hampshire’s 2nd Congressional District.

Speaking in front of family, friends and supporters at Tandy’s Pub in downtown Concord, Blankenbeker made a point of introducing herself to the state’s electorate.

“I’m a mother. I’m a nurse. I’m an attorney. I’m a past state legislator and I’m a captain in the United States Navy Reserve,” she said.

The announcement came less than a week after Blankenbeker told the Monitor she was seriously considering a bid for Congress and that her decision would come in a matter of days.

Blankenbeker was an active duty Air Force nurse from 1986-91. She was deployed to Oman and Kuwait during Desert Shield and Desert Storm. After switching branches to the Navy, she treated those wounded in the Iraq War while stationed at the Bethesda Naval Medical Center in Maryland. Later, she served as a combat nurse stationed in Afghanistan. Going forward as a Navy reservist, she’ll drill one weekend a month as a commanding officer of a 600-member medical unit in San Diego.

Blankenbeker listed the partisan gridlock in Washington as a major reason she’s running for Congress, highlighting her service at the Bethesda Naval Hospital just outside the nation’s capital as a source for her insight.

“I had a front seat to the congressional dysfunction that was going on,” she said.

And she railed against the continuing resolutions and government shutdowns over the past decade that have brought business to a near standstill in the nation’s capital.

Former state representative Stephen Stepanek, a New Hampshire co-chairman of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, introduced and endorsed Blankenbeker at the event, which took place an hour after she announced her candidacy to conservative leaders and activists at a New Hampshire Center Right breakfast meeting.

Stepanek, who served with Blankenbeker in the New Hampshire House, noted how she won election twice as a conservative in “liberal” Concord.

It was as a state representative in 2011 that Blankenbeker briefly made national news, when in an email she described her weapons training at an Army base and joked about turning those weapons against her union critics.

Asked about the controversial six-year-old email and whether she considers unions her enemy, Blankenbeker said the incident happened during a divisive debate over right-to-work legislation, which she supported.

“The unions weren’t very kind to me at that time,” she said. “They did a lot of things that were not very professional.”

Blankenbeker became the third declared Republican candidate in the race. She joined state Rep. Steve Negron, a U.S. Air Force veteran and businessman from Nashua, and Dr. Stewart Levenson of Hopkinton, a former U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs regional director, who last year was one of the top whistleblowers at the Manchester VA Medical Center.

Former WMUR political director and anchor Josh McElveen, who had been seriously considering a bid for the GOP nomination in the Second District, told the Monitor on Monday that he’d decided against launching a campaign.

The winner of September’s Republican primary will face off in November against Kuster, who’s running for a fourth term in the U.S. House. The Monitor reported last week that Kuster’s campaign raised more than $400,000 in the fourth quarter of last year and had $2.28 million in the bank.

But Blankenbeker discounted Kuster’s large campaign cash advantage.

“I don’t believe you have to buy an election,” she said.

And at a time when many critics have said Trump’s unpopularity signals doom for Republicans in midterm elections, Blankenbeker voiced support for him and his policies.

“I think the president’s done a lot of really good things for our nation,” she said. “Just the tax reform alone. It’s going to bring great relief to our state.”

She was hesitant, however, to endorse every aspect of Trump’s conduct in office.

“I will not comment on the president’s tweeting. He’s my commander in chief,” she said.

Turning to House Speaker Paul Ryan, the highest-ranking member in the chamber she’s targeting, she said she was sympathetic to the demands of his post.

“I think Paul Ryan has had a very difficult job. I applaud him for what he’s put up with. ... I think he’s doing the best with the situation he has in hand,” she said.

One issue she highlighted in her announcement was health care, as she noted to her time providing care in the military.

“I have 31 years of health care background. I think I can bring a lot to the table when I get to Congress and we deal with health care issues,” she said.

But she’s no fan of the national health care law commonly known as Obamacare.

“The health care system is broken. The Affordable Care Act didn’t work. Now we need something different,” she said.

Blankenbeker also highlighted national security and balancing the budget as she announced her campaign.

She said with her completion of active military duty and her daughter’s graduation from law school, “Now, the timing’s right” to run for Congress.

And she disagreed with the political pundits who say the 2nd District leans toward the Democrats.

“People think that the seat in CD 2 is not winnable by Republicans. That is absolutely untrue. We will do it,” she declared.

The New Hampshire Democratic Party criticized Blankenbeker as a “gun fanatic” and said she “is wrong for New Hampshire seniors and working families.”

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