Republicans competing for a chance to take on Democratic Rep. Annie Kuster in New Hampshire's 2nd Congressional District unanimously praised President Donald Trump but differed a bit on immigration, abortion and other issues in a televised debate four days before their primary.
Six of the seven Republicans who will be on Tuesday's ballot met for a debate Friday night on WMUR-TV. They repeatedly praised Trump, including the way he accepted Russian President Vladimir Putin's denials regarding interference in the 2016 election. Robert Burns, who served as chair of the Trump campaign's youth coalition, called it an example of Trump's skill as a negotiator.
"What is he supposed to say to Putin when he denies it, call him 'Liar, liar, pants on fire'? That's just ridiculous," said Burns, of Bedford. "And for the liberal media to be out there just hoping and praying for this sort of nuclear war and another Cold War, it's just absolutely unfathomable and totally ridiculous."
Brian Belanger called Trump a smart businessman who knows the importance of keeping his friends close and his enemies closer.
"He did a strategic thing," he said. "He keeps them right where he wants them."
Asked whether legal immigration is making American worse, Belanger spoke the most forcefully in the affirmative.
"You may have half the family members that come legally but it's the other half, maybe the criminal half, that will come in here illegally because once someone is established here they can send money back to their home country to help those folks come into our country,' he said. "So, yes, I do believe that some part of legal immigration is affecting us."
The others didn't answer directly, though several, including former state Rep. Lynne Blankenbeker and former VA physician Stewart Levenson, expressed support for Trump's efforts to curtail legal immigration. Levenson brought up the death of Mollie Tibbetts, a University of Iowa student who authorities say was abducted in July and killed by a man believed to be in the U.S. illegally. Trump and others have seized on the suspected killer's immigration status to argue for changes in U.S. immigration law, prompting Tibbetts father to write an opinion piece against using her death in support of "views she believed were profoundly racist."
"We have to start taking care of our own citizens," Levenson said.
Levenson was among a group of whistleblowers who went public last year with allegations regarding substandard conditions and care at the veterans hospital in Manchester, and launched his campaign in response to what he called Kuster's refusal to address the problems. But state Rep. Steve Negron accused Levenson of giving himself too much credit,
"The thing I'm trying to wrap my head around is ... Dr. Levenson put out that the very number 1 reason to vote him into Congress is that he took on Washington and won. I don't think anybody's won," he said, citing recent reports that the VA nationwide has a backlog of 400,000 disability claims appeals. "This fight's not over, and the people that have been fighting it, long before Dr. Levenson became a whistleblower, were veterans and veterans organizations. Those are the ones out there who started turning this tide."
The candidates also were asked whether they would support new restrictions on abortion if federal law legalizing it is struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court. Burns and Belanger said they would only allow abortion if a woman's life was in danger. Levenson said he opposes third-trimester abortions and public funding for the procedure. Negron said he would outlaw abortion without exception, while Blankenbeker and Gerard Beloin were less specific, describing themselves as prolife.
Jay Mercer of Nashua was not present.
-- Holly Ramer, Associated Press