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July 23. 2014 8:06PM

GOP candidates Guinta, Innis square off during debate

Former Congressman Frank Guinta brushed off a reference to him being a career politician during a congressional candidates’ debate on a news radio show Wednesday.

It was one of a couple of clashes between the main Republican candidates running to face U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, D-Rochester, in November.

Jack Heath, host of WGIR’s “New Hampshire Today,” asked Guinta if he took offense at the reference from Dan Innis.

“I understand Dan has to beat me up somehow,” Guinta responded. “I get that. I get that’s part of the playbook. He’s got to somehow knock me down. I would ask people to run based on their merits and try to explain to people why they would best serve, not by trying to knock somebody else down in the Republican primary.”

The exchange offered a glimpse at the slow-burning fight for the GOP nomination seeking the seat currently held by Shea-Porter, with the state primary less than 50 days away.

Innis, a businessman from Portsmouth, had just finished saying that part of the dysfunction on Capitol Hill is driven by people who have been in Washington too long. “They’re down there playing politics instead of solving problems,” Innis said. “I think the American people and the people of New Hampshire are ready for a new start.”

Guinta is a former state representative, Manchester mayor and congressman representing the 1st District. He said it was about serving people and making a difference.

“It’s not about a career,” he said. “When I decided to run for mayor, it was because somebody needed to step up and save our city.”

Brendan Kelly of Seabrook also participated in the debate on WGIR, and was questioned by Heath and the NHJournal’s John Di-Staso.

Kelly said the nation’s debt partly inspired him to run for Congress.

“I look at the debt now as a symptom,” he said. “Our problem is that we have turned our back on God and our responsibility to look after our fellow man. That is what I believe is wrong with our country. We elect people to go steal for us and then we’re surprised when they steal so much.”

Guinta zeroed in on fiscal issues, as well.

“We are at a crossroads as a nation,” Guinta said, “and most people I think are so frustrated that our economy is still stagnant.”

Innis took aim at Guinta early in the debate. The Portsmouth businessman was speaking about how it is important to be independent and to break with leadership to best represent New Hampshire, when he turned to Guinta and said, “A good example here is that Frank Guinta supported the passage of the Patriot Act. I would not have supported that. I think it violates the First, Second and Fourth amendments, and I would have stood up and said, ‘No, we need to take another look at this.’”

Guinta fired back. “Let me say, you either stand with the terrorists or you stand with freedom and protecting Americans. You might want to go and take a look at what was going on,” he said, referring to the war on terrorism after 9/11.

The two clashed again when asked about transportation infrastructure and how to fund improvements.

The candidates were asked if a modest gas tax would be a good means to provide funding. Guinta said dedicating transportation funding through oil exploration leases would be an effective way to restore dollars. Innis, while saying Guinta’s idea would ultimately be passed on to consumers, said the way Congress raises revenue, including the gas tax, is open to question.

“I think Congress needs to come together and look at this and say what are the ways that we can fund this? Ideally we don’t raise the gas tax, but maybe we need some adjustment,” Innis said.

“Talk to the truckers,” Guinta countered, “and ask them how much a gas tax is going to hurt them in the state of New Hampshire and across the country.”

dtuohy@unionleader.com


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