September 12. 2018 8:11AM

Negron takes win in tight, three-way 2nd CD Republican race

By DAVID SOLOMON
New Hampshire Union Leader


From left: Lynn Blankenbeker, Stewart Levenson, and Steve Negron. 

Retired Air Force veteran Steve Negron of Nashua eked out a win over Dr. Stewart Levenson of Hopkinton and former Navy nurse Lynn Blankenbeker of Concord in a tight three-way race for the Republican nomination in the 2nd Congressional district.

Levenson and Blankenbeker issued concession statements shortly after midnight.

Negron made a strong showing in his hometown of Nashua, the biggest city in the district, with more than 49 percent of the Gate City vote, and ran close in precincts carried by the other two candidates,

In a contest that featured seven candidates with low name recognition and modest to non-existent campaign budgets, the vote totals were expected to be close among the top three finishers. All seven were united in their unqualified support for President Trump and their positions on the key issues.

They all opposed abortion rights and endorse Trump’s position on immigration, guns, trade, tax cuts and national security.

Negron will face incumbent Democratic Congresswoman Ann Kuster, who had no primary opposition.

Negron and Levenson loaned their campaigns more than a quarter-million dollars each for paid staff and television advertising.

With enough campaign money to fund a modest run of TV ads, name recognition from his role at the VA and a good performance in the televised debate the week before the primary, Levenson tried to separate himself from the field.

The top three candidates all had close relationships with the military and have made it a central theme of their candidacy.

Negron is a career Air Force veteran who, after his retirement in 1988, went to work for several defense contracting agencies and ultimately set up his own defense supplier firm, Integron LLC.

Levenson of Hopkinton was medical director of the Manchester VA Medical Center and one of the central whistleblowers who triggered a federal review of the facility and its leadership.

Blankenbeker was a Navy nurse for nearly 30 years who worked in combat zones, including in the Kandahar province of Afghanistan, where hospitals endured regular shelling.

In two years as a state representative, Negron established himself as a reliable conservative vote. He supported cuts in business taxes, expanding school choice and defending gun rights, in addition to his strong pro-life positions.

Negron went after Levenson in the WMUR-Union Leader debate, suggesting he was overselling what he had accomplished at the VA. They 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.”

Robert Burns of Manchester, the head of his own pharmaceutical price consulting business and Hillsborough County treasurer, was running a distant fourth with 15 percent of the vote.

Brian Belanger, who launched his own excavation and septic service, garnered 5 percent of the vote, while Jay Mercer, a former director of health services at Rivier University, took 3 percent. Gerard Beloin had 1.5 percent.

The 2nd district encompasses central, western and northern New Hampshire, including Nashua, Concord, the Monadnock region, the Upper Valley and the North Country.