Little discord among GOP candidates for 2nd District seat
By KEVIN LANDRIGAN New Hampshire Union Leader
From left are Bob Burns, Lynne Blankenbeker, Gerard Beloin, Stewart Levenson, Rep. Steve Negron, and Brian Belanger during the Granite State Debate Series republican candidates debate for the 2nd Congressional District at Saint Anselm College in Goffstown on Friday. (THOMAS ROY/UNION LEADER)
GOFFSTOWN — The six Republican candidates for the 2nd Congressional District echoed one another on gun rights, immigration, trade, abortion and other issues during their only televised debate Friday night.
This race for the nomination to oppose U.S. Rep. Ann Kuster, D-N.H., has been marked by civil discourse and few personal attacks and this one-hour affair at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics on St. Anselm College was no different.
The two candidates with the most campaign money did have brief dust-ups, first over the whistleblower credentials of Stewart Levenson of Hopkinton, the former medical director at the Manchester VA Medical Center.
State Rep. Steve Negron, R-Nashua, suggested Levenson was overselling in this campaign what he had accomplished at the VA.
“He says he took on Washington and won. I don’t think anybody has won,” Negron said. “This fight is not over.”
Levenson said after the whistleblowers went public, former VA Secretary David Shulkin sacked the current management and pumped in $30 million to upgrade the compound.
“Clearly a lot more needs to be done,” Levenson said.
He defended not going public quicker to bring about change.
“As long as I was able to do my job with integrity, I worked within the system,” Levenson said.
“If Ann Kuster had done her job, I wouldn’t be running here tonight.”
The pair also sparred on the details of their opposition to abortion.
“I oppose third trimester abortions but I feel the court has spoken about first trimester abortions,” Levenson said, adding he was against public financing of abortion.
Negron quickly followed and said Levenson’s was not a wholly pro-life position.
“If you are going to run on a conservative ticket there can’t be any off ramps,” Negron said. “Either you are pro-life or you are not.”
On the margins there were a few other disagreements on issues.
Robert Burns, a pharmaceutical consultant from Manchester, was the only one to say he would refuse to give his ID to federal agents conducting a border patrol checkpoint.
Brian Belanger, a former small business owner from New Boston, stood apart to say he would not be against a Republican challenging President Trump in 2020.
“I think competition is good. I support our President but I also think competition keeps everybody on their game,” Belanger said.
Gerard Beloin, a self-employed business owner from Colebrook, said while they disagree on issues his favorite member of the congressional delegation has been Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, D-N.H., who is retiring at year’s end.
On immigration, Burns stood out as the only one to promote getting more potential workers entry into this country.
“We need more legal immigration but it needs to be merit based,” Burns said.
On guns, all six said they would oppose using federal money to buy guns for schools but favor permitting all public school teachers who wish to be armed.
Retired Navy nurse Lynne Blankenbeker of Concord said she would support a national reciprocity law that would allow someone with permission to carry a gun to do so across all 50 states.
“You could effectively break a law just by going from one end of a mall parking lot to the other,” Blankenbeker said.
The New Hampshire Union Leader and WMUR-TV co-sponsored the Granite State Debates series that ran Tuesday through Friday.
WMUR political director Adam Sexton moderated the event with questions to the candidates coming from Union Leader reporter Dave Solomon, WMUR’s John DiStaso and New Hampshire Public Radio’s Casey McDermott.
Republican interest in taking back this seat intensified after the 2016 election when little-known former state Rep. Jim Lawrence of Hudson got more than 45 percent of the vote even though he faced a child support controversy.
Negron, 57, a native of El Paso, Tex., is a retired Air Force officer who had served in the Air Force Space Command in Colorado Springs, Colo., prior to his retirement from active duty in 1988.
Following that, Negron worked in the defense contracting industry, first with GTE Government Systems and then for Lockheed Martin Systems.
He later formed his own contracting business, Integron LLC.
Negron’s campaign showed some grass roots prowess having won all five straw polls of GOP activists during the spring and summer campaign.
Blankenbeker surprised the political establishment by winning a seat in the New Hampshire House of Representatives from Concord, a Democratic stronghold.
For three decades, Blankenbeker worked as a Navy nurse, working in Afghanistan combat zones that underwent heavy mortar fire during much of her service.
There are six women Republican members of Congress supporting her campaign.
Burns doesn’t live in the 2nd District but said he’s spent much of his life there.
A candidate for several offices, Burns did get elected as Hillsborough County treasurer, beating Manchester Democrat Chris Pappas who would go on to become an executive councilor
An early Trump supporter, Burns said he can engineer an upset of Kuster by getting the core Trump support mobilized behind his candidacy.
Belanger had launched his own excavation and septic service but was unable to work for the past three years after a car accident left him with permanent disabilities.
Problems with the federal Social Security system spurred him to run for Congress to help working people, Belanger said.
Beloin, 62, has run for federal office before and is a self-employed businessman with a wife and daughter.
A fiscally and socially conservative Republican, Beloin has not attended most of the joint events with candidates.
The seventh candidate, Jay Mercer of Nashua, did not participate in the debate because he failed to respond to invitations for the event until Friday, 11 days after the deadline.
Mercer said he’s worked as director of health services for Rivier University and was an assistant professor with the New Hampshire Technical Institute in Concord.