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Kathleen Sullivan: A GOP grudge match in the First District

August 20. 2018 9:39PM

I started to write a column last week about New Hampshire’s First District congressional race, but after about 400 words, I lost it due to technical blundering. This was not a fatal blow, as developments at week’s end would have forced me to start over anyway.

The First District is one of the few open seats held by a retiring Democrat that national Republicans thought they could win. Although Carol Shea-Porter won in 2016, Donald Trump carried the district by a slight margin.​ But those hopes arose before the Republican primary was thrown into disarray.

Although six candidates are on the ballot, only two, state Sen. Andy Sanborn and former Liquor Commission enforcement head Eddie Edwards, are running competitive races. And they have started to make this race personal.​

Sanborn and Edwards do not differ much on the issues. They both are citizens of Planet Trump. Both want smaller government. Both oppose most restrictions on the Second Amendment, while supporting severe restrictions on abortion. I would consider Sanborn as the nominal favorite, as he is much better funded, and probably has better name recognition after having served in two different legislative districts.

However, Sanborn is suffering from the after-effects of his lewd comment to a male intern. (Sanborn states he was joking.) The state attorney general investigated whether the intern, who later worked for the Senate Clerk’s office, had been bribed to remain silent about Sanborn’s behavior.

The investigation found no such impropriety, but transcripts of interviews from the investigation have been slowly released by the attorney general, causing a drip, drip effect on Sanborn’s campaign.

Worse than the supposed joke to the intern was the transcript of a female staffer who told investigators of inappropriate comments. Sanborn claimed the staffer was a friend of his and his wife, but, sorry, Senator. She was an employee and you are an elected official. You had no business telling her she “looked hot.”

The Edwards campaign jumped on this, of course. Edwards went so far as to refuse to sign a pledge that he would support the Republican nominee, whomever it may be. While Mike Biundo, Edwards’ senior campaign adviser, states Edwards is being genuine, it is a little difficult to not sense some opportunism here — this is politics, after all.

What makes it look more than the usual political opportunism is Edwards’ continued support of Donald Trump. He is trying to make the case that Sen. Sanborn’s situation is different. Trump, he says, has apologized for joking about sexually assaulting women.​

That ignores Trump’s backpedaling after he was elected, when, according to the New York Times, he began questioning whether it was his voice on the infamous Access Hollywood tape. Nor does it address Trump’s gloating and creepy bragging about how he got away with going backstage at beauty pageants to look at the women. Or the 14 women who said Trump groped them.

(Now, this is where some readers will throw their papers down and yell “what about Bill Clinton?” Sorry, folks, Clinton’s behavior does not excuse Trump’s.)

I am not sure how this primary will turn out, but it has evolved into a grudge match, which will make it difficult for the GOP nominee to unite the party after the primary in September.​

It also makes the Democratic primary look like a garden party. There have been some heated exchanges over how best to provide health insurance to all Americans, whether through Medicare for all or some other reforms. But, for the most part, most of the bickering has been aimed outside the circle of candidates.

Levy Sanders, for example, has been castigating the state Democratic Party for not sponsoring any debates, although there will have been about 20 forums giving equal time to all the candidates by the day of the election.

Some candidates complained vociferously about endorsements of Chris Pappas by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Sen. Maggie Hassan. But those complaints were aimed at the senators, not the candidate. Interestingly, no one has complained about Carol Shea-Porter’s endorsement of her former chief of staff, Naomi Andrews.

By and large, however, the Democratic primary has been civil. While there is time for that to change, if it does not, the civility and unity factor will be worth more than a few votes to the Democratic candidate.

Manchester’s Kathy Sullivan is the former chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party.

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