In Debate, O'Connor Tries To Present Middle Ground Between Shea-Porter and Guinta

Nov 3, 2016

Shawn O'Connor, Carol Shea-Porter and Frank Guinta, the three candidates in New Hampshire's 1st Congressional District, squared off in a debate on WMUR.
Credit WMUR

After three heated elections in the 1st Congressional District, Republican Frank Guinta  and Democrat Carol Shea-Porter are familiar with each other, and each other’s criticisms. The two candidates certainly don’t agree on much.

But this fourth time around, they may have found some common ground in opposing the newcomer to the race, Shawn O’Connor, a Bedford businessman who pitched himself during Thursday's debate on WMUR as the middle ground.

“This is moderate district. And for last decade, the voters of this district have had to choose between one hyper-partisan or the other. And they’ve fired them constantly. One, after another, after another,” said O’Connor.

For instance, on the question of the presidential race, O’Connor, who dropped out of the Democratic primary earlier this year, says he has major concerns about both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, and isn’t ready to support either candidate.

“Like a lot of American voters, there are a lot of undecided.  I’m one of them, and I’m going to make a game time decision.”

Shea-Porter, meanwhile, says she continues to support Clinton despite ongoing FBI interest into her private email server.

“ I spoke out against Donald Trump and what I said about Hillary Clinton still stands,” said Shea-Porter. “That I do trust her but she made a mistake. She said she made a mistake.”

For his part, Guinta has  condemned Donald Trump’s comments and self-described “locker room talk” regarding women. But he is standing by the Republican nominee.

“When it comes down to public policy, I believe that Mr. Trump is going to focus more so on growing the economy, shrinking the size and scope of government, putting people first, rather than what you are seeing from Secretary Clinton and the new revelations this last week,” said Guinta.

On issues closer to home, the three candidates put forward differing visions for how to create jobs and grow the economy. On commuter rail, Shea-Porter and O’Connor both want to bring service to southern New Hampshire, while Guinta says it’s not realistic at this time.

The candidates also laid out their efforts for combating the state’s opioid epidemic. Guinta pointed to his work on the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, or CARA.

“In that legislation is my amendment to provide treatment and recovery services. We only have 12 locations in the state of New Hampshire for long term treatment,” he said. “We need a significantly higher amount.”

Shea-Porter, though, questioned why long-term funding for the bill wasn’t included in the legislation.  

“Fund what he did not fund, which is the CARA Bill,” said Shea-Porter. “So communities actually have money to put beds in and to expand treatment. Because without money, it’s just talk.”

O’Connor says he’d like to provide everyone struggling with addiction access to 90-day inpatient treatment, though he was light on specifics for how he’d pay for it.

And while voters probably have few specifics on O’Connor at this point, his better known rivals did what they could to paint an unflattering portrait.

“You need to understand and appreciate that he is not this true independent. That is disingenuous,” said Guinta.

“First he was a Republican, then he was a corporate Democrat. He came here three years ago, then he decided he was going to be a Bernie-crat because he realized an opportunity,” said Shea-Porter. “So he ran around saying, doing all these wonderful things. Then he realized he couldn’t beat me in the primary, so then he flopped over to be an Independent. So Frank and I have a right to be a little confused about how to define him.”

Shea-Porter and Guinta are both banking on a shared view that O’Connor will wind up hurting the other more.

And that could determine the outcome of this three-way race.