1st CD GOP hopefuls audition for Trump support during debate

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Aug. 5—The five major Republican candidates for the 1st Congressional District nomination clearly tried to audition for the support of former President Donald Trump during their first debate Thursday night.

Karoline Leavitt of Hampton, a former press aide in Trump's White House, tried to set herself apart as the only election denier, insisting that President Joe Biden did not legitimately win the 2020 presidential election.

"The 2020 election was stolen and Joe Biden didn't legitimately win 81 million votes. That's preposterous," Leavitt said during the debate at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College.

Matt Mowers of Gilford, a former State Department aide under Trump, said there were "irregularities of concern" — including in Windham, when a voting machine improperly counted hundreds of ballots in a state representative race.

State Rep. Timothy Baxter of Seabrook said he tried to get a full forensic audit of the entire 2020 election, but the Republican-led Legislature killed his bill.

"We don't exactly know what happened in our elections in Pennsylvania, Arizona and New Hampshire until we audit them," Baxter said.

Former Executive Councilor Russell Prescott of Kingston said he would support a national investigation of the 2020 election, but was confident that Trump's loss in New Hampshire was valid.

The fifth candidate, Gail Huff Brown, of Rye, used the question to launch the first attack against Mowers for having voted twice during the 2016 presidential election, once in the New Hampshire primary and then months later in New Jersey where he came from.

"We have one candidate up here who voted twice and that is not election integrity," said Huff Brown, a former television news anchor and the wife of former U.S. Senator and Trump ambassador Scott Brown.

"Everywhere I go people talk to me and say how can you vote twice and be trusted? One person, one vote; that's how it works," she said.

In his defense, Mowers alluded to Huff Brown only having lived in New Hampshire full time in recent years.

"That is just silly stuff. I know you are new to the state and may not know the rules," Mowers said.

"Hillary Clinton brought it up for politics, Chris Pappas brought it up for politics, and that's because I am going to win," he said.

State prosecutors said Mowers broke no state election laws here by voting later in New Jersey. Critics maintain Mowers did violate a little-enforced federal law that limits citizens to voting in only one state for a similar contest.

In 2020, Mowers won the GOP nomination for the seat and lost to Pappas by 5%.

On abortion, Baxter was the only candidate to support federal action, a constitutional amendment that bans late-term abortions.

The other four candidates said they agreed with the U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned the landmark Roe vs. Wade decision and sent the issue back to the states.

All five also opposed the $280 billion bipartisan bill to help the U.S. better compete with China by producing its own high-end computer chips.

"We could have done better than the way this bill ultimately came out," Mowers said.

The group was divided over supporting federal aid to Ukraine, with Baxter four-square against it.

"I am absolutely against any American taxpayer dollars going to Ukraine. We have people barely able to eat and we are going to have money printed in China and send it to Ukraine?" Baxter said.

Prescott said it's a U.S. tradition to support democracies fighting against autocratic control.

"They are defending themselves. I would support them but make sure that money is actually going there," Prescott said. "We have to cut spending somewhere else."

Other candidates not invited to the debate, but who will be on the Sept. 13 primary ballot, are Tom Alciere of Hudson, Mark Kilbane of Exeter, Mary Maxwell of Concord, Kevin Rondeau of Manchester and Gilead Towne of Salem.

klandrigan@unionleader.com