COULD ONE of the swingiest Congressional districts in America swing back to the Republican Party in 2020?
New Hampshire’s first congressional district (NH-01) has been represented by a Democrat for 10 of the last 20 years. For the other 10 years it has been represented by a Republican. It is one of only 30 Democratic-held congressional districts that Donald Trump won in 2016. Recent polling from the Suffolk University Political Research Center foretells a good deal of ticket splitting across the ballot again this November.
NH-01 is a diverse district that includes the ultra-liberal University of New Hampshire in Durham as well as very conservative pockets of Belknap and Carroll counties. In it lie cities like progressive Portsmouth and conservative Laconia, two communities that could not be less alike (I’ve lived in both). The heart of the district is Manchester, the state’s largest city, which is predominantly Democratic but not exactly progressive.
This election sees first-term incumbent Democrat Rep. Chris Pappas defending the seat against Republican challenger Matt Mowers.
The most recent poll from the St. Anselm Institute of Politics shows Pappas with an 8-point lead over Mowers. However, Pappas fails to reach the critical 50% ballot threshold incumbents need to assure reelection. Interestingly, Pappas polls worse than the other Democratic candidates for federal office on the New Hampshire ballot — well behind former Vice President Joe Biden and Democratic Sen.Jeanne Shaheen.
Pappas has had it pretty easy throughout most of his political career. The scion of a large Manchester family, he co-owns the popular Puritan Backroom, which has been in his family for more than 100 years. It has been a nice platform from which to launch a political career.
This time around, though, Pappas has a record to defend. He has voted with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi 100% of the time. Think about that for a moment. There isn’t a single issue on which Chris Pappas disagrees with Nancy Pelosi.
In Mowers he faces a politically savvy hard charger with a penchant for clever and clarifying turns of phrase. For example, in New Hampshire, Mowers says, Pappas talks like JFK but in Washington he votes like AOC. In other words, the kind, polite young man who scooped ice cream at the Puritan is just another liberal Democrat in Congress.
Driving a message as a challenger is a difficult task, just ask “Corky” Messner and Dan Feltes. However, Mowers has managed to dictate the issues of his campaign against Pappas. Earlier this year he was the first congressional candidate in the country to call for travel restrictions against China in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout the campaign, he’s demanded China to be held accountable for its cheating ways and for the urgent need to bring manufacturing jobs back to the U.S.
Lo and behold, Pappas is now parroting Mowers’ message in his own campaign advertising. Pappas says he’s “ending our reliance on China.” But as a member of Congress, Pappas has never so much as issued a press release on China. Search his congressional website for the word “China” and you get, “Your search yielded no results.”
Mowers has Pappas playing defense on law enforcement issues.
In Congress, Pappas voted to remove qualified immunity from New Hampshire police officers and voted to remove $600 million intended for law enforcement from the original HEROES Act.
This hasn’t gone unnoticed within the law enforcement community. The New England Police Benevolent Association and the New Hampshire Police Association support Mowers over Pappas. And both of Manchester’s police unions back Mowers, though they previously backed Pappas in 2018.
On economic issues, Pappas has been very clear that he supports a repeal of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which would result in a tax increase for virtually every worker in New Hampshire. He’s also the co-sponsor of the Social Security 2100 Act, which would raise payroll taxes on all workers. The Heritage Foundation says under Pappas’ bill, “An average worker with an annual salary of $50,000 would pay an extra $1,200 per year.”
It’s not surprising then that the business community has come out for Mowers. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce endorsed Mowers earlier this month. “As our nation faces many challenges and is collectively working to not just reopen our economy but return to growth and expanded opportunities for all Americans, we need leaders like Matt Mowers,” said Chamber Chief Executive Officer Thomas Donohue.
Mowers has earned the support of small businesses, as well. The National Federation of Independent Business, which has supported Pappas in the past, endorsed Mowers on Friday along with 100 Granite State small business owners.
It’s very difficult to remove a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Ninety-one percent of them won reelection in 2018. Nevertheless, history shows NH-01 is a volatile district. And Mowers has Pappas on the run.