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  • Staff photo by Don Himsel

    Frank Guinta talks with Telegraph reporters and editors Tuesday, October 19, 2010.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel

    Carol Shea Porter talks with Telegraph reporters and editors Wednesday, October 20, 2010.
Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Shea-Porter goes on the attack in first post-primary debate with Guinta

MANCHESTER – Two years after they last met in the 2010 campaign, U.S. Rep. Frank Guinta and former congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter picked up Monday where they left off, engaging in a spirited and often heated debate at Saint Anselm College.

The two candidates, set to face off again in the Nov. 6 general election, clashed throughout the hourlong session on taxes, health care and energy policy among other issues that revealed a wide difference in opinion over the role of government in private enterprise.

Guinta, a former Manchester mayor who coasted to a victory in last week’s Republican primary, spoke out throughout the debate against the controversial health care reform law, federal energy subsidies and other examples of “government overreach.”

“What you’re hearing from my opponent is big government solutions all the time, and I don’t think that’s necessary,” Guinta told the audience, gathered at the college’s Institute of Politics.

Meanwhile, Shea-Porter, the Rochester Democrat who served two terms in Congress before falling to Guinta in 2010, drew strong distinctions with her opponent, offering support for the health care law, government-supported rail service and other federal programs.

The two candidates are running to represent the 1st Congressional District, which runs from Manchester to the Seacoast, including parts of Merrimack.

“My opponent gets confused. He thinks we don’t believe in efficient government,” Shea-Porter said. “We believe in efficient and effective government.”

The two candidates differed throughout the debate on what constitutes an “efficient and effective” government.

Shea-Porter said it is one that taxes its citizens fairly and equitably. She offered support for President Barack Obama’s plan to rescind the Bush-era tax cuts on the wealthiest taxpayers.

“It’s not really a tax increase. It’s returning to what the president (George W. Bush) had determined at the beginning,” she said of the plan to restore a higher tax rate on those earning more than $250,000 a year.

Guinta contended that increasing taxes on any Americans would only cause uncertainty among business owners.

“It makes it very difficult for entrepreneurs, for job creators to invest in their own business,” Guinta said. “That’s not right.”

The federal health care law, the Affordable Care Act, also has contributed to instability in the private sector, Guinta added. The law’s insurance mandate has added another cost to businesses, which are looking to expand.

“What I’m hearing is that it’s requiring people to hire more in compliance areas … and it’s not providing stability in the cost of health care,” said Guinta, who has voted to rescind the law. “What we need to do is have a much more free market approach.”

Shea-Porter, who supported the Affordable Care Act when it was introduced, disagreed, saying the law has improved access to care for many Americans and it is starting to stem further cost increases.

“We’ll have healthier employees, more insured people, so we’ll be saving on the end of the hospital, where people go when they’re not insured,” she said, “and we’ll be saving as businesses.”

The contrasting views extended to the issue of passenger rail in New Hampshire. Guinta contended that rail service is expensive and only serves to ship workers out of state.

“I never quite understood this notion of sending our residents out of the state to work somewhere else,” he said. “It doesn’t make fiscal sense here in our region to support it.”

Shea-Porter challenged Guinta’s view, saying rail would only help reduce oil consumption as well as traffic, and it would improve workers’ access to jobs.

“I can’t believe I just heard him say we shouldn’t be sending our people out to work in other places,” Shea-Porter said. “The reality is our unemployment would shoot up quite a bit.”

Beyond the issues, the debate became heated at times with the challengers addressing their opponents directly about their time in office and their voting record.

Shea-Porter referred to Guinta repeatedy as a member of the tea party wing of the Republican Party, and she called Guinta and the current House of Representatives the least effective Congress in history.

“My opponent seems intent on trying to attack me personally. But that’s not what people want to hear,” Guinta said. “They want to hear about positions and facts.”

Shea-Porter defended her positions, stressing that her accusations focused on Guinta’s positions and votes over time in office.

“It’s not like I talked about his hair color or anything personal about him,” she said after the debate drew to a close. “The point is he has a (voting) record now, as I do, that gives people a choice, and it’s a very clear choice here.”

After dipping in earlier months, Guinta’s approval rating has rebounded among voters, according to a recent poll by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center. The poll, released last month, shows Guinta with a 37 percent approval rating to Shea-Porter’s 49 percent. According to the poll, 45 percent of voters surveyed said they plan to vote for Shea-Porter compared to 43 percent for Guinta, leaving the race a virtual tie heading into the election.

Saint Anselm College will host a similar debate Tuesday featuring the candidates in the 2nd Congressional District, U.S. Rep. Charles Bass, of Peterborough, and Democratic challenger Ann McLane Kuster, of Hopkinton.

Jake Berry can be reached at 594-6402 or jberry@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Berry on Twitter (Telegraph_JakeB).