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1st CD: Pappas earns Democratic nod from crowded field

New Hampshire Union Leader

September 12. 2018 11:00AM
Chris Pappas, who is running for a 1st District congressional seat, shakes hands with Gaetan DiGangi at the the Merrimack polls at James Mastricola Upper Elementary School on Tuesday. Also pictured is Chuck Mower. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

Executive Councilor Chris Pappas of Manchester was largely outspent but easily sailed to victory in the crowded 11-person Democratic primary Tuesday night.

"At the end of the day this election is about what we can accomplish and who we are," Pappas said during a loud ovation at his victory party at the Puritan Backroom Conference Center.

"We need to say loudly and clearly this fall that we don't live in Donald Trump's America; this country still belongs to all of us."

Pappas, a three-term councilor, opened up a huge lead in his hometown, winning nearly 70 percent of the vote. The second-place finisher, former Obama administration official Maura Sullivan of Portsmouth, finished a distant second there.

"I always trust Granite State voters to get it right and tonight they didn't disappoint," Pappas declared with a broad grin.

Sullivan outraised Pappas by more than 2-1 in the race, but party leaders said Tuesday night Pappas' ground game was much better than Sullivan's, who was barely known before the campaign began.

The victory speech from Pappas was delayed as he reached out to speak to all 10 Democrats he'd beaten Tuesday.

"The time for deception, division, and petty politics is over, and the time for decency, unity, and progress is nearly upon us," Pappas said. "But we won't get there if we're not successful on November 6. That's why we need to continue building a broad-based coalition of Democrats, independents and Republicans and focus on what we can do when we look out for one another."

Just before 10 p.m., more than an hour after the race was called, Sullivan spoke to her supporters and endorsed Pappas.

"Our shared mission as Granite Staters and as Americans is far too important. This is not about me, it's not about any one of us. It is about what is at stake for our country," Sullivan said.

"We absolutely must unite behind Chris and keep this seat blue and send a representative to Washington who will put Granite Staters first, who will stand up to Donald Trump, and I know that Chris will be that leader."

It became clear before 8 p.m. this was going to be Pappas' night when he won nearly twice the votes in one ward of Portsmouth, Sullivan's adopted home city.

Unofficially, Pappas won Manchester by nearly a 4-1 margin over Sullivan, 6,868 to 1,904. With only 15 percent of the vote, Pappas had a huge lead, 56 to 23 percent.

The conference room across the parking lot from the Puritan Backroom Restaurant that Pappas owns filled up slowly as campaign workers filtered in.

But throughout the day, prominent Democrats were tweeting to their supporters to go out and vote for Pappas, including Sen. Maggie Hassan, her state director Pam Walsh and longtime lobbyist and Democratic operative Jim Demers of Concord.

All 11 candidates said they were liberal and vowed to support abortion rights, paid family and medical leave and to oppose the Trump tax cuts and his foreign policy.

Both Pappas and Sullivan played it safe on some issues, failing to offer their support as some rivals did for a government-run single payer health care system.

U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, D-NH, 65, surprised even longtime supporters with her decision last fall that she would not be seeking a fifth term this fall.

Her decision resulted in a flurry of candidates from across the district, which covers the eastern half of the state.

Many thought Pappas of Manchester was the early favorite given that he was able to win three times in the most Republican district on the Executive Council. Pappas had considered mounting a challenge to Shea-Porter in 2016 but decided instead to hold onto his seat.

Most of the political establishment was on board with Pappas, 38, including Sens. Maggie Hassan and Shaheen, former Gov. John Lynch, the State Employees Association and the two largest unions representing public school teachers.

But Pappas had an ambitious and well-financed rival in former Marine captain Sullivan, 38, of Portsmouth.

Sullivan had lived in the state less than a year but said she had worked to help first elect Shea-Porter and was committed to staying here.

She worked in the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs and parlayed those relationships into an impressive financial juggernaut that raised nearly $2 million in campaign donations — more than 90 percent of it outside the state.

If that wasn't enough, Sullivan had liberal special-interest groups bankrolling their own campaign ads for her, to the tune of $800,000 worth by the third week in August.

Pappas did well financially — raising about $825,000 — but that still left him with half as much money as Sullivan, who swamped the airwaves with ads.

Equality PAC, a group backing LGBTQ causes, spent $228,000 on ads for Pappas, who would become the first openly gay candidate to win nomination to a major office in New Hampshire.

The race attracted several other first-time candidates for major office:

State Rep. Mindi Messmer, 55, of Rye, said as an environmental scientist she's been able to get legislation passed through the Republican-dominated Legislature the past two years.

Rep. Mark MacKenzie, 66, of Manchester won his own State House seat after retiring as a city firefighter and longtime president of the New Hampshire AFL-CIO union.

Deaghlan McEachern, 35, of Portsmouth, helped create a technology startup and is the son of three-time candidate for governor Paul McEachern.

Naomi Andrews, 37, of Epping was the candidate Shea-Porter ended up endorsing as she had been her chief of staff and former campaign manager.

Rochester City Attorney Terence O'Rourke, 40, is an Iraq War Army veteran and outspoken activist.

Lincoln Soldati, 69, of Somersworth, served as Strafford County attorney.

Levi Sanders, 49, lives in Claremont, which isn't in the 1st District. He is the only son of Vt. independent Sen. Bernie Sanders who won the 2016 Democratic presidential primary here.

The other candidates who filed are small business owner Paul Cardinal of Merrimack and William Martin of Manchester.

Union Leader Correspondent Jason Schreiber contributed to this report.


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