Republican candidates in the 1st Congressional District squared off Tuesday for their final debate before the Sept. 9 primary.
With the news earlier in the day that a second American journalist had died at the hands of the Islamic State, discussion on the conflict in Iraq was at the forefront Tuesday night.
Frank Guinta said the country needs to "eliminate and eradicate ISIS," but when pressed on whether that meant boots on the ground, the former Congressman balked.
“We have to continue with the airstrikes, but you are going to need an Act of War vote in Congress so Congress has the legislative jurisdiction over this issue.”
Like Guinta, former UNH business school dean Dan Innis called on President Obama to come up with a clear strategy in dealing with ISIS.
Innis wouldn’t commit to sending in troops, instead urging greater cooperation with leaders in the region.
“Syria does not want ISIS to succeed, nor does Iraq. So let’s work with them, get their cover on the ground, where they can be our eyes and ears and get things done. And then we get in there with the air power and really drive this home.
With a week before the primary, Guinta remains the frontrunner to secure the Republican nomination, setting up another rematch with Democratic incumbent Carol Shea-Porter.
Guinta lost the seat to Shea-Porter in 2012.
With only days left, Innis worked to make up some of that ground, pointing to differences with Guinta on issues such as abortion.
“I support a 20-week ban on abortion. And unlike Frank, I believe in parental notification in the case of a minor seeking an abortion. I have a 14-year-old daughter. If she’s going to the clinic, I need to know.”
But it was when Innis’ history of voting as a Democrat came up when he and Guinta had the debate’s most contentious back and forth.
Innis made clear his allegiance to Republican principles, but Guinta said there are things Republican primary voters should consider.
“He did support Jackie Cilley for governor in the Democratic primary in 2012, who was the pro income tax candidate. He did in 2008 – his first opportunity to vote here in New Hampshire – vote in the Democratic presidential primary, either for President Obama or Hillary Clinton.”
Little known Brendan Kelly was the libertarian nominee for the seat in 2012, but was never in serious contention.
Kelly said he’s running as a Republican now because it gives him a better chance at winning, though all polls indicate that’s once again highly unlikely.
“I’ve got the insight this time that maybe I should take it serious. So I’m following Ron Paul’s direction, who said you have to do it within the Republican Party.”
On health care, Guinta reiterated his position that the Affordable Care Act needs to be repealed.
Innis agreed the law isn’t working, but said there are aspects of it people like, such as making it illegal to deny coverage because of pre-existing conditions.
“And people kind of like having their kid on their policy. We’re not going to repeal this thing until President Obama is out of office. So I think in the meantime, we further delay its implementation, we slow that down, and we start hacking away at this thing as much as we can.
And responding to attacks from Innis about being a career politician, Guinta made no apologies.
“I have been about service. I’ve also had two small businesses. I grew up in a small business environment with my folks still having their small business today. But my passion for this state and for this country is out of service.”
On whether to raise the federal gas tax to deal with infrastructure issues, Guinta and Kelly said they’re opposed while Innis said he’s not willing to rule out anything.
All the candidates pledged to support whoever ends up facing Shea-Porter in November, but Kelly said it’s going to take a true outsider to change Washington.
“Somebody’s gotta stand up and start telling the American people the truth. And the truth is the government really doesn’t run anything well. We have to cut down on government and start representing the best interests of the all the people in the country.”
This was the first in a series of four debates this week hosted by WMUR and the New Hampshire Union Leader.
Wednesday night’s debate will feature Republican candidates in the 2nd Congressional District.