GOP rivals gang up on Mowers in TV debate

·3 min read

Sep. 7—MANCHESTER — Matt Mowers, the Republican front-runner in the 1st Congressional District race, became the chief target of three rivals during the only televised debate Tuesday night on WMUR.

Former Trump administration press aide Karoline Leavitt of Hampton, ex-TV news anchor Gail Huff Brown of Rye and state Rep. Timothy Baxter of Seabrook all criticized Mowers during the one-hour event at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics on the Saint Anselm College campus.

While Mowers came under assault for having voted in two states for president in 2016 and for declining to take a position on federal legislation restricting abortion, none of the shots appeared to deliver a knockout punch.

Mowers said the attacks were similar to what former President Donald Trump faced from his GOP foes when he won the presidency in 2016.

The fifth candidate, former Executive Councilor Russell Prescott of Kensington, said when he attacked then-Democratic Senate candidate Maggie Hassan for a state Senate seat and lost in 2004, he vowed never again to engage in negative campaigning.

The polls have Mowers holding on to a narrow lead over Leavitt, with Huff Brown in a very competitive third-place position.

The winner in next Tuesday's primary will face U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas, D-N.H., who is seeking a third term.

The candidates agreed on many issues ranging from supporting an "all-of-the-above" approach to expanding domestic energy, to aggressively closing the southern border to illegal immigration and working to balance the federal budget.

Mowers was the only candidate to refuse to say he would support impeachment charges against President Joe Biden.

He also declined to say if he would support federal legislation to restrict abortion further.

"I know the press likes to boil things down to a yes or no question," Mowers said.

Baxter shot back, "Yes, he's getting into the spin now, just answer the question, are you going to pass it or not."

Abortion flash point

Baxter said he alone has committed to vote for federal legislation to ban abortions, which goes much further than the current state law that outlaws the procedure after 24 weeks of a pregnancy.

"I will not do what is politically convenient; I will do what is right," Baxter said.

Huff Brown said she supported the New Hampshire ban but said women and not government should retain the right over control of their bodies.

During this campaign, she talked about her pregnancy in a TV ad, noting a doctor had asked her to choose between saving her life or her daughter's when she was ready to deliver at 20 weeks.

"I have never said I was pro-life or pro-choice because you know what those are, those are terms that politicians use and the media use to divide people," Huff Brown said. "My uterus is not for sale, never was and never will be."

Prescott said he opposes legal abortions, but has won support from leaders on both sides from state Rep. Kurt Wuelper, R-Strafford, who chairs the New Hampshire Right to Life Board of Directors, and former Executive Councilor Ruth Griffin of Portsmouth, who supports abortion rights.

"The best person who can win in November is me," Prescott said.

Leavitt accused Mowers of lying in a TV ad that she has never had a job outside of government.

She has worked at her family's small businesses in Plaistow that sold ice cream and sold cars and trucks, she said.

"You may not think scooping ice cream and working on trucks isn't a real job but it is," she said.

klandrigan@unionleader.com