2nd District Republicans play nice, slam KusterBy KEVIN LANDRIGAN
New Hampshire Union Leader
August 20. 2018 1:30AM
CONCORD — While the two major Republican candidates in the 1st Congressional District attack each other’s character, there’s a very different race in the 2nd District where the top five rivals save all of their venom for Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster.
State Rep. Steve Negron of Nashua nearly brought the house down with his closing quip at the debate of the 2nd District hopefuls in the Grappone Conference Center in Concord on Thursday.
“This is about taking a woman out of Congress and bringing her home,” said Negron, an Air Force veteran who founded his own defense contracting business. ”Look, this can’t leave this room. I miss Ann Kuster and want to take her home.”
Radio talk show host Jack Heath seemed to appreciate the friendly give-and-take that ensued at the debate — an hour after one between the 1st District hopefuls collapsed because ex-police chief Eddie Edwards of Dover refused to pledge he’d support state Sen. Andy Sanborn of Bedford if Sanborn wins the primary.
“This was a civil issue-based debate which is what they should be,” said Heath of iHeart Media, who served as moderator for both events.
Dr. Stewart Levenson of Hopkinton, one of the whistleblowers of substandard care at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Manchester, couldn’t contain his delight after the event.
“What I really liked about this one is I felt we all brought our A game,” Levenson said.
All of the candidates talked tough against illegal immigration and Obamacare and for veterans, gun owner rights and the presidency of Donald Trump.
Former Hillsborough County Treasurer Bob Burns of Bedford doesn’t live in the district but pointed out he got on board with Trump before any of his rivals.
“We need to turn out the Trump Republicans,” Burns said. “We need someone who is close to the administration, close to Trump, close to his family members.”
Thumbs-down to Medicaid expansion
Most would do away with Medicaid expansion, which gave health insurance coverage to 50,000 low-income adults. Republican Gov. Chris Sununu championed the move in a reauthorization law he signed earlier this month.
Former state Rep. Lynne Blackenbeker of Concord is a recently retired military nurse with more than 30 years of service.
“I don’t think preserving a bad program is a good idea,” Blackenbeker said.
Brian Belanger of New Boston said he’s run several businesses, from home services to food establishments.
“I would be against it,” Belanger said of Medicaid expansion. “We can’t throw good money after bad.”
Levenson did speak about reforming rather than gutting the program.
“Removing the safety net is rather difficult,” Levenson said. “What we need to do is repair the program, make it more cost-effective and find ways where we can save money.”
On guns, all five said they would oppose gun control. Blackenbeker said she’d push for a federal law promoting gun ownership.
“I actually do think we need some law changes. I would vote for some reciprocity. I think we do need to be able to carry across state lines and carry a card that allows for universal carry,” Blackenbeker said.
Full-service VA hospital?
While the candidates supported increasing services for veterans, none committed to backing a full-service hospital for New Hampshire, the only state in the 48 contiguous states that lacks one.
“It is not about brick and mortar, it is about service,” Negron said. “The VA Medical Center in Manchester was not providing the proper care.”
Levenson said Kuster should have done more to get additional federal grants to create a new compound in Manchester.
“What they do need is a building that can take care of the needs of 21st-century health care and that building’s more money to maintain than to replace,” Levenson said.
While the candidates tilt hard to the right, they are trying to win in a district that hasn’t gone Republican in a presidential year since 1988.
During those 30 years, moderate Charlie Bass of Peterborough was the only Republican to hold the seat until Kuster beat him in 2012.
Kuster has a massive financial advantage, with nearly $3 million in the bank. That’s six times what all the Republicans have in their campaign accounts put together.
But Burns pointed out that Bass first won the seat against Democrat Dick Swett over gun rights because Swett broke a campaign promise and voted for a federal law to ban assault weapons.
And state Republican leaders say that Jim Lawrence of Hudson, a little-financed, unknown former state representative, got more than 45 percent of the vote against Kuster in 2016.
“A principled conservative, one who knows how to turn out Trump voters, can win,” Burns added.
The other Republicans on the Sept. 11 primary ballot are Jay Mercer of Nashua and past federal office candidate Gerard Beloin of Colebrook. Both weren’t invited to the Republican State Committee-sponsored debate.