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Character issues dominate GOP 1st CD debate

By PAUL FEELY
New Hampshire Union Leader

September 06. 2018 9:22PM
Republican hopefuls for New Hampshire's 1st Congressional District, from left, Eddie Edwards, Michael Callis, Andy Martin, Jeffory Denaro and Andy Sanborn participate in a debate at St. Anselm College on Thursday, ahead of next week's primary. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

GOFFSTOWN — Questions of personal character dominated Thursday night’s debate between Republican candidates seeking the U.S. House seat to represent New Hampshire’s 1st Congressional District.

The five GOP hopefuls looking to fill the seat being vacated by Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, D-NH, took the stage at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at St. Anselm College Thursday night, answering questions posed by a panel of local journalists.

Character issues have dominated the campaign so far, with front-runners State Sen. Andy Sanborn of Bedford and former police chief Eddie Edwards of Dover repeatedly questioning whether the other is fit to serve.

Similarities between both candidates have emerged throughout the campaign, and were once again evident Thursday night. Both have expressed support for the Trump administration policies on immigration, national security, and opposing Obamacare. Both support the Second Amendment and oppose legal abortions.

Sanborn has faced questions throughout the campaign about Attorney General Gordon J. MacDonald’s investigation into comments Sanborn refers to as a “crass joke” made to a male intern. A lengthy investigation concluded Sanborn committed no criminal wrongdoing, and there was no credible evidence that Jay Flanders, Senate chief of staff at the time, paid the male intern cash in order to keep him quiet about the controversy.

Edwards has accused Sanborn of “serial predatory behavior.”

On Thursday, Sanborn was asked about comments attributed to a female staffer who said after working for him for several years, “I was used to hearing him make sexual comments and sexual references...They just roll off of the tip of his tongue so easily.”

“I’ve been very clear and transparent about this,” said Sanborn. “I cracked a joke in 2013 in the privacy of my office in the presence of my wife and a few guy friends of mine. We all laughed about it. It was looked into and everyone reaffirmed it was a joke. No one ever filed a complaint and no one was upset. Six years later my political rivals want to make a big deal out of this just like they did to President Trump. I’m an Irishman who owns a sports bar.”

Edwards has said he won’t campaign for or support the Democratic nominee or mount a write-in campaign if he loses the primary, but won’t back but Sanborn because he is unworthy of his support.

On Thursday, Edwards was asked about his support for President Trump and his character issues, and why voters shouldn’t view that support as being hypocritical.

“I support the President fully, and I think the wrong comparison is being made,” said Edwards. “The real comparison is President Bill Clinton and Sen. Sanborn. Both were in office for eight years. Both absolutely behaved improperly in the State House and the White House. Both abused their authority. That’s more of a comparison than what we saw with President Donald Trump.”

Edwards was pressed on whether he would support his opponent if Sanborn wins the Republican primary.

“If Senator Andy Sanborn is our nominee, everything we’re talking about tonight is gone. His candidacy will drag down the entire party,” said Edwards. “I support the Republican Party. I will not speak ill of our nominee. I am not going to support someone who I know can’t deliver what we need delivered as Republicans.”

“At the end of the primary, if we want to be successful as a party, we need to come together,” said Sanborn. “We can only win together.”

The candidates were asked if there was any issue they would disagree with Trump on.

“I support President Trump,” said Sanborn. “America was very, very clear in this last election. We wanted change. As a business owner, I wanted a business owner that would go down there and shake it up. I might not support tariffs specifically, but I understand what he is doing.”

“The President is doing a great job,” said Edwards. “He was elected to go to Washington and shake things up, and he’s on course to do that. The only area I disagree with the President on is bump stocks. I don’t think the executive branch should be controlling our liberty”

When asked whether he supports Trump’s proposal for a Space Force military branch Sanborn said, “While I support the President on almost all things, I would rather see the money spent to build the wall and reduce the deficit.”

When asked how running for Congress had changed his life Edwards replied, “It’s opened up my eyes to just how corrupt the political system is.”

Each candidate was asked whether they would be willing to fight the opioid epidemic beyond the U.S. border, by allow the military to attack drug cartels in other countries.

“I am extremely reluctant to deploy the military,” said Andy Martin, a Middletown, Conn., native and Manchester resident who has run for federal office several times before. “I think we should use our soft power much more in preference to our military.”

“I think we have yet to on one of the causes, which in this country is the demand for these drugs,” said Michael Callis, a Nashville, Tenn., native, who now lives in Conway.

“The answer is simple — it’s building a wall so people aren’t able to bring these amounts of drugs into this country,” said Jeffory Denaro of Auburn, a plumbing contractor.

The panel asking the questions Thursday 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. On Friday night, the seven Republican candidates in the 2nd Congressional District will take the stage.

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

pfeely@unionleader.com


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