New Hampshire voters got a chance last night to check out the Republican side of the 1st Congressional District race during the candidates' only televised debate. There were some surprising performances, a little fighting but mostly the five Republican candidates focused on the issues. NHPR's Lauren Chooljian is back with us this morning to breakdown last night's WMUR debate.
(This transcript was lightly edited.)
OK. so quickly remind us, who was on stage last night.
Yes so there are two candidates who are seen as the frontrunners. There's former State Liquor Enforcement Chief Eddie Edwards and then State Senator Andy Sanborn. They've done the most fundraising and voters have likely seen them in political ads or mailers in their mailbox. Then there are the three lesser-known candidates. There's Michael Callis. He's a stonecutter. Jeff Denaro works in construction. And Andy Martin is a lawyer and perennial candidate.
OK so sticking with Edwards and Sanborn for a moment. They've been constantly attacking each other's character during the campaign did. Did any of their fight spill out onto the debate stage?
Yes, so this was a question I actually had myself going into debate. And sure enough we did see some back and forth between the two of them. A lot of their fighting centers around this crass comment that Senator Sanborn made in front of a State House intern a few years back. And Edwards has gone as far as to say that Sanborn has shown a pattern of predatory behavior. And if Sanborn wins the primary Edwards won't promise that he would support Sanborn in the general and voters heard little bit more of that line of argument last night.
Edwards: "If Senator Sanborn is our nominee everything we're talking about tonight these are very important issues. The Wall. Taxes. Security. Veterans. It's all gone. It's all gone. His candidacy would drag down the entire Republican Party and the ticket?"
All right, Lauren, what about Sanborn? What did he have to say about Edwards?
Sanborn also continued his similar line of attack that he's been using and that is that Edwards isn't conservative or Republican enough. And he also responded to this criticism about his behavior and that comment that he made at the State House. Sanborn has consistently argued that it was just a joke and everyone around him reaffirm later that it was a joke and that there was no formal complaint made about what he said. But last night he kind of walked his comments back slightly. This is the first time that I've heard Sanborn say he shouldn't have made that comment.
Sanborn: "The last time I checked this is still America and people have a right and I understand that jokes that we may have said in 2013 might not be as appropriate in 2018, but again, we have to understand look back at something that we said 13 -- and look I'm an Irishman that owns a sports bar. If I see Tom Brady take a clip you're probably going to hear me say something or might swear from it."
OK, looking to the full field now Lauren, can you give us an example of an issue where you saw some differences between these candidates?
Sure, the candidates were asked about their position on arming teachers as a way to combat mass shootings or more specifically what they thought about the idea that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos brought up recently that federal money could be used to arm teachers. And they actually each had a pretty unique response. So Edwards says it's not OK to use federal funds for that as he thinks it would extend the scope of the government but he would be ok with teachers carrying on their own. Michael Callis said he agreed with Edwards. Andy Martin says arming teachers should be up to the state legislatures or individual school districts. But he'd also be ok with armed security guards. Then Jeffrey Denaro says teachers should not be armed unless they're coming straight from the military. He's also fine with armed security. And lastly Sanborn said anyone wanting to be armed in a school should be. And he doesn't see a problem with using federal funding. So I figured that's a pretty good example of there are some kind of minor differences between them.
Now before I let you go what would you say was the most surprising thing about this debate?
Well, so Andy Martin performed way better than I think most people expected. I mean these last two congressional debates have been kind of funny because they've become like an equalizer of sorts. Some of the lesser known candidates seem to do pretty well, regardless of their fundraising or polling numbers. So Martin is, as I said before, a perennial candidate or kind of a political gadfly. He's run for office in multiple states. I remember him from my time covering politics in Illinois. He's run for president. But he's also been known for pretty erratic and sometimes really aggressive behavior. He sent an email just yesterday attacking some New Hampshire reporters by name, for example, and it's been widely reported that he's also behind some of the false conspiracy theories about President Obama's background. So I wasn't sure what we were going to hear from him on the debate stage and I know I was not alone in wondering that. And it turns out Rick, he actually performed way beyond expectations. He gave clear answers. He didn't attack anyone. So I'm curious to see if he picks up votes because of this but, yeah, that was that was definitely surprise.