Oct 24, 2016 11:53 PM

Guinta, Shea-Porter, O'Connor, face off in NH1 News 1st Congressional District debate

NH1 News Political Director

CONCORD – Republican Congressman Frank Guinta and former Democratic Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter clashed over old arguments and fought over new issues as they faced off for the first time in the 2016 election cycle.

And the two major party nominees in New Hampshire’s 1st Congressional District also traded fire with independent candidate Shawn O’Connor, who joined Guinta and Shea-Porter Monday night at the NH1 News debate.

This the fourth straight election that Guinta and Shea-Porter are running against each other. He ousted the then two-term Democratic congresswoman in the 2010 election. She returned the favor in 2012. And Guinta beat Shea-Porter in the 2014 three-peat.

Early in the debate O’Connor pitched himself as the viable third option, saying “we’ve had a decade of Congressman Guinta and Congresswoman Shea-Porter and I think that quite frankly that the voters are ready for a change and I’m proud to represent that change.”

O’Connor was once running for the Democratic nomination in the 1st CD against Shea-Porter. And he endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont for president. But after accusing Shea-Porter and her campaign of labeling him a perpetrator of domestic violence, and threatening legal action against her and the New Hampshire Democratic Party, he dropped his bid and launched an independent campaign for Congress.

O’Connor touted that “I’m a true independent and I’m going to work with whoever is elected by the people of the country.”

After criticizing the two-party system, he said “I endorsed Bernie Sanders because I believe he understood the problems with the two party system.”

But O’Connor went on to say that “I don’t support or endorse all or many of his (Sanders) plans”

Shea-Porter quickly criticized O’Connor, saying “I listened to you for a year about how Bernie needed Bernie-crats with him in Congress to make this difference, and so you absolutely did embrace him. But you are right because you were once a Republican. You worked on Wall Street. Then you became a corporate Democrat. Then you became a Bernie person. And then you became an independent Republican or Republican independent. And it’s been a pretty rapid change there so it’s hard to keep up.”

After O’Connor launched his independent bid, the New Hampshire Democratic Party late this summer twice went before the Ballot Law Commission to try and knock O’Connor off the November ballot.

O’Connor accused Shea-Porter of being cahoots with the state party, saying “I just can’t imagine that this would have been against Congresswoman Shea-Porter’s wishes.”

Shea-Porter denied any involvement, and welcomed O’Connor to the general election race, saying “I think this is going to make it very interesting.”

Guinta got in a word at the end of the argument, saying that he welcomed O’Connor “to the debate stage,” adding that “I think my opponent Carol Shea-Porter is a little frustrated with that because she’s got to deal with this primary in a general election debate.”

After a brief respite, O’Connor quickly went on the attack again against the Democratic nominee.

“Carol Shea-Porter is saying that she’s a woman of integrity. But the truth of the matter is she has been dishonest with New Hampshire voters for a decade. She has said and you can check it on her website and you can check it, that she has never taken money from DC lobbyists. That is not true,” O’Connor claimed before giving three examples.

“I think it’s a bit hypocritical for Congresswoman Shea-Porter to imply that she is the voice of integrity on this stage,” he added.

Shea-Porter fired back that “I think it’s important Shawn that you admit that you took corporate PAC money, kept it for a year, and also that you have a PAC. You started a PAC which you just closed in June.”

O’Connor then urged voters to go to his campaign website where “you’ll be able to see the $1 million that Mrs. Shea-Porter has taken from registered lobbyists. You’ll also see that both she and Congressman Guinta have taken more than $2 million in PAC money.”

“Shawn, I have to say this is like a lot of other things that you’ve made up. So we’ll just leave it there,” Shea-Porter responded.

Guinta criticized for controversial contribution and support of Trump

Guinta’s trying to rebound from last year’s campaign contribution controversy. 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, and then to defeat Shea-Porter in the general election. 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, Executive Councilor Chris Sununu, 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 continued 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.

Guinta characterized the episode as a mistake.

Shea-Porter disagreed, saying “Frank, it wasn’t just a mistake and you know that you hid it and you know that your attorney dragged it out for years. You said that I was lying when you really had done that. And your primary opponent this time said that ‘when you’re right you fight’. But you didn’t. You settled. And he said that ‘when you settle, it’s because people don’t want to get prosecuted’.”

Guinta responded, saying “the reality is that this was a six year old complaint that was settled a year and a half ago. Unfortunately my opponent Carol Shea-Porter also has an FEC complaint filed against her.”

Guinta was came under attack from Shea-Porter for his continued support of GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump.

“I think that Hillary Clinton made a mistake with the emails and she said that. But if I didn’t think that she was honest, I wouldn’t have endorsed her,” Shea-Porter said before targeting Guinta over the GOP nominee.

“Frank hasn’t spoken up at all. When we heard Trump attack women, he said nothing. When we heard Trump attack war heroes, he said nothing. When we heard Trump attack Hispanics, he said nothing,” she said. “You’ve been embracing him all along. This is not the time to back off. You should stay right with him because he’s your guy.”

Guinta responded that “we have a binary choice between Secretary Clinton and Mr. Trump and I’m very concerned about the path, the policy path, that Hillary Clinton would take. And Mr. Shea-Porter and Mr. O’Connor would support the big government that she wants.”

Face off over Obamacare, term limits

Hours before the debate, the Obama administration confirmed that health insurance premiums would sharply rise next year for many of the millions of customers getting coverage through HealthCare.Gov. And they said that the number of insurers serving the federal exchanges set up under the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, would drop by around 28%.

Shea-Porter, who voted in favor of the 2010 law, criticized Guinta’s opposition to the measure, saying “you have hoped that it wouldn’t work. It is working. We need to fix it and make it stronger but it is working.”

Guinta, describing health care as the defining issue in the race, said the new news regarding premiums and the number of insurers nationwide “is not good for New Hampshire. That is not good for the country. You have a trillion dollars that is already borrowed and spent for this program and you promised that people would have great access to care and more affordability. And that is not happening.”

Guinta and Shea-Porter also traded fire over term limits for members of Congress. Guinta, along with O'Connor, said they support term limits. Shea-Porter disagreed.

“I think we should leave it up to the voters. They are very smart,” Shea-Porter argued. “I think it’s heavy handed and what you’re asking for is government to make the decision.”

“It’s not heavy handed. I mean look, you’ve been running since 2006,” Guinta responded.

He then touted, as he often does, that he got “six bills signed into law by this president.”

“Wow. Well you didn’t get six bills singed. We’ll leave that aside,” Shea-Porter shot back.

“I’m sorry. I did,” he fired back.

Guinta, Shea-Porter team up

Late in the debate the two candidates did agree as they teamed up to criticize O’Connor.

Asked about the situation in Iraq and Syria and the battle against ISIS, O’Connor talked about the dire situation in the Syrian city of Aleppo, which has become a blood bath.

“What we need to do is put in place a no fly zone and work to try to bring the parties to the table,” O’Connor suggested.

Guinta took aim at the first-time candidate, saying “I am a little concerned about what Mr. O’Connor just said. I’m not sure why he’d want to implement a no fly zone before we start working with our allies in the region. That would be a viewed as an escalation. So we’ve got to make sure we have support in the region and our allies first before we consider that.”

Shea-Porter then tag-teamed with Guinta, offering that “I agree with Frank and clearly Frank and my experience is showing here that you don’t want to do that until you’ve sat down and worked it out. You start going heavily as Shawn O’Connor wants to and that would be a mistake. You need to work with those countries.”

Shea-Porter and O'Connor agreed on some issues, including both supporting stronger background checks for gun purchases. Guinta argued that the first step should be enforcing the already existing laws.

Shea-Porter and O'Connor also agreed that climate change is an urgent issue that's caused by human activity. Guinta questioned climate change, saying that not every scientist agrees that it's man-made.

The NH1 News showdown in the 1st CD, which is one of the most closely watched swing districts in the country, was the first of two televised prime time debates between the three candidates.

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