The field of candidates trying to replace retiring Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter is crowded, to say the least. There are over a dozen people running for the 1st Congressional seat, and this district is notorious for swinging back and forth between the two parties.
NHPR’s Lauren Chooljian spent some time this week watching the three main Republican candidates to see how they’re trying to distinguish themselves from one another. She spoke with NHPR's All Things Considered host Peter Biello.
(Editor's note: this transcript has been edited lightly for clarity.)
First, quickly give us a sense of these three candidates.
First up is State Senator Andy Sanborn. He’s served four terms in Concord, he’s from Bedford, he was a big Ron Paul guy - the libertarian-leaning former presidential candidate - so that might give people a sense of his politics. He also owns The Draft, a bar and restaurant in downtown Concord.
Then we have Eddie Edwards, he was the chief of police in South Hampton, he was the chief enforcement officer at the state liquor commission and is a Navy vet and he now lives in Dover.
Lastly, Bruce Crochetiere. He's completely new to politics and government. He started Focus Technology Solutions which he says is a 500 million dollar IT company. He lives in Hampton Falls.
On Wednesday night these three got their first chance to actually debate one another. What was your big takeaway from seeing them all go head to head?
So oftentimes in primaries, you get a lot of the same stuff from each candidate and we had a little bit of that here: They’re all for the President’s immigration policies (they all want a wall, for example), They all believe there is voter fraud in New Hampshire. They’re all fiscal conservatives, things like that.
But what really stuck out to me is they all are using a similar strategy: They’re each trying really hard to convince voters that they are the least political person on the ballot - I’ll play a little tape from last night to show you what I mean.
SANBORN: I'm a reluctant politician, I never ran to be like all these other politicians, I ran to protect you from them.
EDWARDS: I think until we change the folks we send there, until we change how long they can stay there, we're never gonna change our government. Term limits is a must.
CROCHETIERE: I'm not a politician, I'm farthest thing from one - I'm an outsider.
Well, I guess how well this sticks all depends on how you define what a politician is?
Right, one might say running for office makes you political. Andy Sanborn is actually in office now and Eddie Edwards has done work as a lobbyist. But they’re all doing this because the idea of a non-politician will always appeal to a segment of the electorate.
Let me give you an example of this. Last night was the first time Bruce Crochetiere has ever done a debate and he seemed pretty nervous. One voter told him after he needed to be more forceful on stage, but at the same time, she said she really liked that he was "not a politician." So there are a lot of Republicans, at least in Southern New Hampshire, who like the idea of putting someone in office who has more experience out of government than in it. And I heard this from another Republican voter who isn’t the biggest fan of the president, so this isn’t just a Trump thing.
Speaking of Trump, how often does he come up in this race?
I would say Eddie Edwards makes the most direct references to him. Last night, for example, he said “the president needs people who put America first” and he has said he’d be in lockstep with Trump if elected. But all three are pretty supportive of the president, though Crochetiere has been quoted in the Union Leader as saying he wished Trump wouldn’t tweet as much.
Are there any major differences between them or issues where they disagree?
Social issues are maybe the biggest point of disagreement. Sanborn and Edwards call themselves social conservatives, but Crochetiere says because of personal reasons he doesn’t want to go into, he’s pro choice, though he doesn’t believe in publicly funded abortions. That’s a big one.
There are some smaller splits. On the opioid crisis for example, they all think the state could use more resources to combat it. But Edwards thinks some of that money should come from pharmaceutical companies, Sanborn says there needs to be some sort of metrics to examine if the investments are making a difference, and Crochetiere says more money should go to middle schools to try and educate kids when they’re young.
So there was news yesterday about another potential inappropriate comment from Senator Andy Sanborn to a state house staffer several years ago -- did that come up in the debate last night?
It almost didn’t - and probably wouldn’t have if not for Eddie Edwards kind of shoehorning it in at the end during his closing statement and Sanborn had already given his so he couldn’t respond.
Edwards basically said he and New Hampshire voters demand answers about these now two allegations that Sanborn has said inappropriate things to staffers.
So to back up here, the Attorney General investigated incidents involving Sanborn at the statehouse but didn’t find any wrongdoing. They did confirm he made an inappropriate joke to an intern, and this week documents from that investigation suggested there could have been other inappropriate comments made to a female staffer.
Last night after the debate, Sanborn says was pretty upset about all this, he’s called it a witch hunt and went as far to insist to reporters last night that he’s never been inappropriate or said anything disrespectful in his life.