Democratic Congressional Primary Gets Even Stranger as New Accusations Fly

Apr 25, 2016

Shawn O'Connor in an image from his campaign website

The strange and bitter Democratic primary in the first congressional district got even stranger and more bitter today.

The state Democratic party and Bedford businessman Shawn O'Connor are trading fresh accusations - the party says O'Connor asked to be paid to drop out of the race; O'Connor, meanwhile, says the party has defamed him. Both sides say they are ready for a possible court battle.

Joining All things Considered now to explain NHPR's Josh Rogers.

So, Josh, there's a lot going on here. And the back and forth has been ongoing for several weeks now. Let's start with Shawn O'Connor's basic claim. What is it?

What Shawn O'Connor, who is fairly new to New Hampshire politics, has claimed is he's been a victim of a whisper campaign - that political allies of Carol Shea-Porter, including paid staffers, and people at the Democratic party, tried to tar him as a domestic abuser. This apparently happened some time ago, and may have coincided with an opportunity O'Connor says he had to introduce Bernie Sanders at a New Hampshire campaign rally. O'Connor never got to introduce Sanders. But according to O'Connor, the talk that he was a batterer swirled in Democratic circles. Here's how he put it to WMUR recently:

"There was constant repetition of these rumors, and the rumor was that I was a perpetrator of this domestic violence. Well only one person left the house that day on a stretcher."

OK, and to be clear. O'Connor is talking about being carried out on a stretcher himself.

Yes, Shawn O'Connor says he was a victim of and he's got an affidavit from the person who hit him. Now the people O'Connor has accused of spreading these rumors have pretty much denied it happened, but O'Connor does have State Senator David Pierce, who has said he heard this talk from someone close to Carol Shea-Porter. But Pierce stops short of suggesting it was a plot on Shea-Porter's part. O'Connor has demanded Shea-Porter apologize and threatened lawsuits over what he claims is "a conspiracy." That kind of talk tends to be rare in the state Democratic party. Fights between party insiders and party outsiders are far more common in New Hampshire Republican politics. Democrats here tend to keep a lid on that sort of thing.

So the statement from the New Hampshire Democratic Party lawyer, which essentially says if you want to sue, Shawn O'Connor, we are ready. And by the way, press and public, Shawn O'Connor asked to be paid to withdraw from the race. Is it fair to see this as an attempt to get O'Connor to go away or at least quiet down?

If so, it didn't work. O'Connor says the claims made by the Democratic party are completely false. And in a written statement goes on to makes some pretty out there claims of his own. One, that the Democratic party's lawyer "implied" the the party might use its influence to have O'Connor arrested on trumped up charges if he continued to fight over this; another was that that a state Senator had spread a rumor that O'Connor planned to release rats into the kitchen of the Puritan Backroom restaurant. O'Connor called that ridiculous.

Scroll to the bottom of the story to read O'Connor's statement and the response from the New Hampshire Democratic Party.

That's a relief, but I have to ask why would any political candidate think this sort of stuff would be helpful to get out there, even if it was all true?

Well, I tried to get Shawn O'Connor on the phone for the taped interview and ask. He declined, saying he thought his statement speaks for itself. For better or worse, it may.

Statement released by Shawn O'Connor in response to what he claims are statements from the N.H. Democratic Party.

Read the statement from NHDP Attorney William Christie: