Sep 2, 2016 12:47 AM
NH1 News Political Director
CONCORD – U.S. Rep. Frank Guinta and his GOP challenger Rich Ashooh traded fire over a host of issues Thursday in the first prime time televised debate in the Republican primary in New Hampshire’s 1st Congressional District
But before the argued over the issues, they clashed over Guinta’s campaign contribution controversy, with Ashooh charging Guinta “lied” and is guilty of New Hampshire’s “largest scandal of a campaign finance issue.”
The incumbent fired back, accusing the challenger of launching “political attacks.”
The Federal Election Commission ruled last year that a $355,000 loan from an account in his parents’ name that Guinta used to help boost his first election to Congress was illegal.
Guinta used the money in the 2010 cycle to win a hard fought multi-candidate GOP primary which included Ashooh, and then to defeat Democratic incumbent Rep. Carol Shea-Porter in the general election for the state's 1st Congressional District. The FEC declared the donation excessive and illegal, fining Guinta $15,000 and ordering him to repay the entire donation. Although Guinta had long insisted that the funds were his, in May, 2015, he signed an agreement with the FEC in which he agreed to return the $355,000 and pay the $15,000 fine.
Some top Granite State Republicans, such as Sen. Kelly Ayotte and state Senate President Chuck Morse, last year called on Guinta to step down. But he resisted those calls.
Fast forward to this year and Guinta continues to insist that the funds loaned to his campaign were his, even though the FEC disagreed. In recent weeks a new complaint against Guinta was filed with the FEC.
In the NH1 News debate Guinta reiterated that “the reality is, this is my money.”
And he called the new filing with the FEC political.
“It surprises me not at all that a few weeks out from a new election, that there is a political charge, a politically charged complaint. But that’s what politics is about,” Guinta said.
Moments later, Ashooh fired away at Guinta.
“The fact of the matter is Frank Guinta broke the law. He accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars of illegal campaign contributions. This is not minor. This is the largest scandal of a campaign finance issue we’ve had in New Hampshire. Worse, he broke the trust of the voters. He lied,” Ashooh charged. “As a result, this seat is now in danger of going to Carol Shea-Porter.”
Guinta responded, saying “the reality is, this is a settled matter. And the FEC has found me in full compliance. And no amount of political attacks on me or my family is going to change that fact.”
Foreign Policy Fight
Ashooh also targets Guinta over the controversy in a new campaign commercial that’s running on New Hampshire airwaves.
A new TV ad by Guinta takes aim at Ashooh, questioning his judgement on national security and foreign policy issues and comparing him to President Barack Obama.
“Ashooh said he’s open to a ’conversation with Iran’ about having a nuclear program, just like Obama,” says the narrator in the spot.
Ashooh, who was a longtime executive at the Nashua based defense contractor BAE Systems, responded to the Guinta spot, saying “I’ve spent more than 20 years actually fighting terrorism, working for not only New Hampshire’s largest manufacturer but the global leader in electronic warfare. We have been part of this fight even before it was in the news. That is what I’ve spent my career doing. Only one of us on this stage has actually done something about the terrorist threat. Calling me soft on terror is like calling a Granite State soft on the Yankees.”
“It simply isn’t’ true. Frank knows it isn’t true. Most of his ads, in fact all of them that I’ve seen, have been negative on me and not touting his accomplishments because there are no accomplishments,” he added.
Defending his commercial, Guinta responded “these are his words, and I think it’s important for voters to understand that somebody who has spent 20 years lobbying in the defense industry has stated those terms over several years. These are not works that I’ve said. These are my opponents own words.”
“The fact of the matter is he took my words out of context,” Ashooh shot back.
Guinta also repeatedly pressed Ashooh to admit that he’s been a longtime Washington lobbyist.
“I’m proud to have worked with our government to protect our military,” Ashooh fired back.
Ashooh: ‘We don’t need grandstanding’
The two candidates also clashed over how to save Social Security from becoming insolvent, repealing Obamacare, and steps to fix the Veterans Administration.
Late in the debate, it turned heated again, as Ashooh criticized the Congressional Task Force to Combat Heroin and Opioid Abuse that was co-founded by Guinta and Democratic Congresswoman Annie Kuster (New Hampshire’s 2nd CD)
“We don’t’ need grandstanding we need solutions,” Ashooh said.
Guinta shot back, asking “are you really attacking me for being a chairman of a congressional task force to combat heroin and opioid abuse?”
Ashooh responded, charging “we’ve seen the politicians do this over and over. Appoint a blue ribbon commission when the answers were already there. The fact of the matter is we still don’t have a dollars on the problem.”
Pushing back, Guinta said “Rich, 439 people died last year. We went from 47th per capita in deaths to third per capita in deaths. My good friend Abi Lizotte, who was days away from dying last year, was able to get help while she was eight and a half months pregnant. Had her baby son Parker, and now she is clean and she has a baby son. And it is because of the work that we are committed to to helping those families in need. And for you to suggest that the Congressional Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Abuse is a farce is wrong.”
But Ashooh shot back, “are you suggesting that you helped Miss Lizotte with her problems? Are you suggesting that because I know her as well and by the way, I’m not going to use her name publicaly because I don’t think that’s appropriate. But the fact of the matter is you are taking credit for the incredible courage and strength she displayed. That is untenable.”
The NH1 News 1st Congressional District GOP debate came 12 days before the Granite State’s primary.
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