2nd CD GOP candidates spar over mobilizing voters

·3 min read

Aug. 30—During a two-hour radio debate Tuesday, the two leading Republican candidates for the 2nd Congressional District seat battled over who could mobilize the most voters in November.

George Hansel said his 2021 mayoral victory with 91% of the vote in the Democratic stronghold of Keene demonstrates he can defeat five-term U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster.

"I am the best candidate here to beat Ann Kuster. I am the only one who can," Hansel said at the opening of this debate on the "Good Morning New Hampshire with Jack Heath" program.

"Democrats are propping up my opponents because they are scared of me."

Former Hillsborough County Treasurer Bob Burns of Pembroke said he's the one who can motivate former President Donald Trump's supporters.

"I am the only person up here who has ever won a partisan election," Burns said.

"I can pull out the Trump voters," Burns said. "This idea we can convince liberals and moderates who always vote Democratic to vote for us is ludicrous."

The third candidate, Chinese-born law professor Lily Tang Williams of Weare, said she is the change-agent candidate who could take Kuster down at the polls.

"I will be the best one to debate Ann Kuster on socialist policies," Tang Williams said.

GOP out since 2012

Voters in the 2nd District haven't supported a Republican candidate for president since 1988, but moderate Peterborough Republican Charlie Bass represented the district for seven terms over 18 years before Kuster defeated him in his final race in 2012.

For the second time in recent days, a Democratic group identified Burns as the "MAGA candidate."

Democrats Serve, a national interest group that backs "Democratic candidates running for public office with public service backgrounds," began airing a 30-second TV ad warning voters they would be "burned" if they backed Burns.

The group filed notice with the Federal Election Committee that it was spending nearly $100,000 on these ads.

Last weekend, a series of mailings paid for by an unknown party was sent to GOP primary voters praising Burns as the "100 percent Trump" candidate.

State prosecutors have traced the mailers to a New Bedford, Mass., direct-mail print shop, but have not identified the sender.

Hansel said Burns has lost several elections and only won a county treasurer post in 2010 when the Tea Party wave delivered a 3-1 GOP super-majority in the Legislature.

"You won an election for an office that hardly anybody knows in a wave election and then you've lost every election ever since," Hansel said. "They know you will get crushed in November."

Burns said Hansel is the darling of Republican heavyweights like Gov. Chris Sununu and crony capitalists, but they cannot deliver for Hansel in the general election.

"What we don't need is a liberal, woke mayor from Keene," Burns said.

The two sparred over Burns' claim that Hansel favored making Keene a sanctuary city and changed the city's Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day.

Hansel said local police will assist federal officials with illegal immigration investigations if asked.

Local media covered Hansel reading the Indigenous Peoples Day proclamation in November 2020.

Hansel, who has described himself as "pro-choice," said he opposes using public money to support providers like Planned Parenthood that perform abortions.

"I am not in favor of using taxpayer dollars for providers that are performing abortions," said Hansel, who later said all three candidates were "for life."

Burns said he's the only anti-abortion candidate who would promote and vote for a federal bill banning abortions as soon as a doctor can determine a fetal heartbeat.

"Neither of my opponents said they would vote for or against it," Burns said. "I will."

All three said Joe Biden won the 2020 election by enough votes to be the legitimate winner, but each said there were "concerns" about vote harvesting.

"He was certified as having won the election, but we need to go and protect election integrity," Tang Williams said.

The trio will debate again next Tuesday night at New England College in Henniker.

klandrigan@unionleader.com