The days until New Hampshire’s primary election are numbered, and most of the Democratic candidates for the 1st Congressional District are using their remaining public appearances to attack the two assumed front runners.
All eleven candidates met at Manchester Community College Thursday night for their final New Hampshire Democratic party sponsored forum, and it was clear that most of the congressional hopefuls have their sights set on Executive Councilor Chris Pappas and Maura Sullivan.
Pappas and Sullivan are leading the pack in polling and fundraising, and they’re the only Democrats in the race airing television ads on WMUR.
At the Manchester forum, they were on defense, as nearly all of the nine other candidates made direct attacks against the Sullivan and Pappas campaigns.
Sullivan has long faced criticism for her recent move to New Hampshire and her reliance on out of state and corporate fundraising, while Pappas is often chided for being the “establishment” pick.
But the comments from their peers last night seemed more pointed.
Candidate Deaglan McEachern brought cheers from a variety of campaigns with his opening statement, where he offered “advice” to Pappas on defeating Sullivan.
“If you are, as the establishment has said, the future of our Democratic party, then stand up and defend it. Defend it against the takeover led by Maura Sullivan and financed by Bain Capital, because in these times we need somebody to stand up, we need somebody to name names.”
State Representative Mindi Messmer, another candidate, hit both Pappas and Sullivan for accepting support from political action committees, something she has pledged not to take.
“They’re not grassroots,” she said. “They’re astro turf.”
Levi Sanders continued his pattern of emotional attacks on Pappas, often times shouting and getting red in the face, over Pappas’ support of a “universal healthcare plan” rather than a Medicare for All system.
“Access to healthcare is like you have access to a billion dollars but you can’t get it,” Sanders said, shaking his head. “You can see this beautiful green money but you can’t get it. I mean folks, this is really kind of embarrassing.”
Sullivan and Pappas never directly acknowledged these or other comments in their remarks, and often took them while smiling or looking directly at the speaker. But they both did end the night with a little dig at each other.
Pappas has been hesitant to directly attack Sullivan, though he constantly talks about the importance of local or “homegrown” political fundraising. In his comments last night, he edged a bit closer.
“There’s another candidate on this stage who declared herself the Democratic nominee,” Pappas said, referring to a fundraising email from Sullivan’s team.
“And I think what we’ve gotta say loudly and clearly in this campaign is that at the end of the day, if our elections are settled by the biggest pile of money, then our democracy and the middle class are toast.”
Sullivan didn’t name Pappas either, but she used a line she’s turned to at least once before that seems to speak to Pappas’ long list of endorsements from powerful local Democrats.
“There were a lot of people that told me not to run, that it wasn’t my turn, that this seat belonged to somebody else. And I’ll tell ya I think that women around the country are really, really tired right now of being told to wait their turn,” Sullivan said.
McEachern kicked off his closing remarks by disputing Sullivan’s claim, saying the state is “incredibly proud of our all female delegation in New Hampshire, nobody told you not to run because you’re a woman,” which drew a few quiet boos from the audience.
This has been a year in which state Democratic party leadership has been desperately trying to get candidates and voters to refrain from negative attacks.
Chairman Ray Buckley is concerned about unifying Democrats with such a quick turn around, just eight weeks, between the primary and general election.
Judging by the forum last night, it seems like most candidates aren’t listening.
The eleven Democrats will meet next week for their first and only televised debate on WMUR, where many of these sharpened attacks are likely to appear again.