Shaheen throws her weight behind Pappas in 1st District primaryBy DAVE SOLOMON
New Hampshire Union Leader
August 08. 2018 11:05AM
MANCHESTER — The American Legion Hall on Maple Street was packed wall to wall with more than 100 on hand to enjoy chicken tenders from the Puritan Backroom and hear U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen endorse Executive Councilor Chris Pappas in the Democratic primary for the 1st Congressional District.
The air conditioning strained to keep the crowd cool, amid a campaign rally atmosphere more consistent with the final days of the primary than the dog days of summer. With nine candidates running to fill the seat now held by Rochester Democrat Carol Shea-Porter, who is not seeking re-election, the race is wide open and the campaign in full throttle.
Pappas worked on Shaheen’s first campaign for governor in 1996 in his inaugural taste of political activism, and on Tuesday she made her preference clear.
“I’ve had a chance to watch him over the years,” she told the raucous crowd. “I know he’s a hard worker. We’ve seen him at the Puritan (owned by the Pappas family for generations) with his sleeves rolled up, waiting tables, helping to supervise the staff of more than 200 people; I’ve seen his commitment to the state of New Hampshire and the people who live here. I was one of those who encouraged him to run for the Executive Council.”
Shaheen’s endorsement completes a trifecta for Pappas, in which he has recently won the endorsement of the state’s two U.S. Senators (Shaheen and former governor Maggie Hassan), as well as 2nd District Congressman Ann McLane Kuster, who is running for re-election.
Pappas is the leader in “establishment” endorsements among the candidates on the primary ballot, with Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig, the state employees’ union and the American Federation of Teachers New Hampshire affiliate also in his court.
Shea-Porter has endorsed Naomi Andrews of Epping, who served as the congresswoman’s chief of staff until deciding to run for the office on her own.
Maura Sullivan of Portsmouth, a U.S. Marine and Iraq War vet who later served at the VA and Pentagon under President Barack Obama, held an event of her own on Tuesday. She was joined by Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services in the Obama administration, in a round table with visiting nurses to discuss health care issues in Rochester.
In addition to Pappas, Andrews and Sullivan, the First District primary also includes Rochester city attorney Terence O’Rourke; state Rep. Mark MacKenzie of Manchester, who served two decades as head of the state AFL-CIO; and former Somersworth mayor Lincoln Soldati.
Also on the ballot are state Rep. Mindi Messmer of Rye, known for her advocacy on environmental issues; technology executive Deaglan McEachern of Portsmouth; and Levi Sanders of Claremont, son of 2016 presidential candidate and N.H. Presidential Primary winner Bernie Sanders.
While Pappas has garnered the most high-profile endorsements, other candidates have carved out their own constituencies in the hope of reaching a broader electorate before the Sept. 11 primary vote.
Sullivan has the backing of many prominent Democrats on the national scene and is by far the most successful fund raiser; Mackenzie has broad union support; Messmer is the favorite of many environmentalists, particularly on the Seacoast, and has been endorsed by the 60-member N.H. House Progressive Caucus.
As the most senior elected Democrat in office, Shaheen is the defacto leader of the Democratic Party in New Hampshire, and the fact that she’s taken sides in a crowded primary has drawn criticism from some contenders.
McEachern alluded to Shaheen’s support for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential primary she lost to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
“As a lifelong Democrat, I felt disappointed in our party for attempting to select our candidate for us in 2016. As a repercussion, we cleared the way for a Trump victory in our district,” he said in a statement released after the endorsement was announced.
“It’s concerning that the leaders of the party are repeating mistakes of the past and not allowing the people to accurately decide who will be our representative,” he said. “Our democracy is at risk when a small group of people, either on the state or federal level, decide our candidates for us. If we continue to allow the powers that be to decide our nominees, the Democratic party will fail to convince voters that we are the party of the people.”
Soldati had a similar reaction. “If 2016 taught us anything, it’s that voters care more about a candidate’s ideas and values than establishment endorsements or campaign contributions,” he said.
Messmer used almost the same words, writing, “If 2016 taught us anything it was that the voters need to make the decision on who is best to represent them.”
Sullivan’s campaign manager, Whitney Larsen, acknowledged that Pappas has an advantage in endorsements, but says that’s not what counts.
“If this race were about anointing a chosen candidate, then he’d already have won,” she said. “But voters in New Hampshire and across the country have shown that they are eager for new leadership.”
Elaine Poitras, 68, of Manchester is among those voters. On Tuesday she took a seat a few feet away from the podium where Pappas and Shaheen embraced. Undecided at this point, she was there to hear what they had to say.
“When we take a look at the situation in this country right now, I think it’s extraordinarily important that everybody vote in an informed way,” she said, “so I tend to be informed.”