September 05. 2018 9:32PM

1st CD front-runners find themselves in crosshairs at debate

By PAUL FEELY
New Hampshire Union Leader


Democratic hopefuls are introduced during a televised debate for New Hampshire's 1st Congressional District at the Institute of Politics at St. Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2018. From left are William Martin, Deaglan McEachren, Mark MacKenzie, Mindi Messmer, Chris Pappas, Naomi Andrews, Lincoln Soldati, Paul Cardinal, Terence O'Rourke, Maura Sullivan and Levi Sanders. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, Pool)

GOFFSTOWN — Eleven Democrats vying for the U.S. House seat representing the 1st Congressional District traded barbs Wednesday night in the only televised debate of the race.

Maura Sullivan of Portsmouth and Chris Pappas of Manchester, the best-known and best-financed of the 11 candidates, found themselves in the crosshairs of their primary rivals.

Sullivan, an Iraq war veteran who served at the Pentagon and VA under President Obama, faced an early question regarding her short tenure as a resident of the state, and why lifelong New Hampshire residents should trust her.

“I’m always going to look for ways to serve my country,” said Sullivan. “My fiance Mark and I decided we wanted to raise our family in New Hampshire. People are supporting my campaign because of my service because they know my allegiance when I go to Washington is to the Constitution of the United States.”

Pappas, who has the backing of labor unions and the state’s most high-profile Democrats, was asked how he hopes to convince voters he is an independent, and won’t be a congressman who “simply toes the party line in Washington.”

“People who know their districts best are the ones who are winning,” said Pappas. “I think it’s going to take the effort of someone who has given a voice to those concerns and take that fight down to Washington, D.C. We’re really focused about having conversations with individuals across the state.”

Candidates were asked about a bill introduced by a group of liberal Democrats in Congress to abolish the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency within a year, and setting up a commission to come up with a “humane immigration system that upholds the dignity of all individuals.”

“Immigration is what this country has been founded on,” said Deaglan McEachern of Portsmouth. “If we build a wall and continue to have the same rhetoric, it’s going to send a message to those entrepreneurs and innovators looking to come to America.”

“We need to re-configure ICE,” said Levi Sanders of Claremont, the only son of 2016 New Hampshire presidential primary winner Bernie Sanders. “It is unacceptable that we have mothers and fathers having their babies ripped out of their arms. We cannot have children thrown in cages.”

“I’m horrified that we have become a nation where punishing children and families has become the policy,” said Naomi Andrews of Epping, former chief of staff to retiring U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter.

“We need to make sure we have due process and protection of the law for everybody,” said William Martin of Manchester. “We need to ensure that all checkpoints have warrants behind them.”

“If you have a problem with the way ICE is operating right now, your problem is with Donald Trump,” said Rochester City Attorney and Iraq war veteran Terence O’Rourke of Alton. “It is not with ICE. ICE is absolutely essential, and the idea that we’re gong to get rid of ICE, to me, is frankly ridiculous.”

Candidates were asked about gun legislation, particularly the issue of guns in and around schools, and how they would tailor a bill to have a realistic chance at passage.

“We need universal background checks,” said Sullivan. “I believe veterans in Congress are going to lead on this.”

“There are steps we can take with universal background checks,” said Pappas. “I also support a ban on the sale of assault weapons and I would support a red flag law.”

“There are reasonable measures,” said former Strafford County Attorney Lincoln Soldati of Somersworth. “If we can talk to gun owners in a reasonable way we can solve many of these problems.”

“We need to address it because the NRA has a stronghold on Congress,” said state Rep. Mindi Messmer, D-Rye.

Candidates were asked about Democrats moving to impeach Trump.

“If put to a vote today, I would absolutely support impeachment,” said Paul Cardinal of Merrimack, who added he would prefer to wait until the Mueller investigation concludes.

“I would vote to impeach if all the data ends up supporting it,” said Messmer.

“This is not a wait-and-see time in our country,” said McEachern. “I don’t know what some of my colleagues are waiting for.”

“The Congress needs to step up to the plate and protect the integrity of the Mueller investigation,” said Pappas.

Six of the 11 candidates said they won’t support Nancy Pelosi for speaker, including Sullivan.

Sullivan was the lone candidate who refused to say who she voted for in the presidential primary of 2016, Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton.

The panel asking the questions Wednesday were Kevin Landrigan with the Union Leader, WMUR political reporter John DiStaso and New Hampshire Public Radio reporter Lauren Chooljian.

The New Hampshire Union Leader and WMUR are jointly sponsoring this week’s Granite State Debate series. Tonight, all five on the ballot in the 1st CD Republican primary have been invited to debate, along with the seven GOP hopefuls in the 2nd District on Friday night.

All one-hour debates begin airing on WMUR at 7 p.m.