GOP contenders vie to challenge Kuster

Republican 2nd Congressional District candidate Brian Belanger participates in a Monday debate at Nashua Community College.

NASHUA – Politics, as with football, can be a game of inches. A Monday debate featured five Republican candidates in the 2nd Congressional District primary race fight for inches to distinguish themselves, despite generally agreeing on major issues.

Steve Negron of Nashua, Robert Burns of Manchester, Brian Belanger of New Boston, Stewart Levenson of Hopkinton and Lynne Blankenbeker of Concord shared the stage in the Nashua Community College auditorium for the debate. They also shared views on issues such as securing the southern border, deregulation of energy markets, and getting the government out of the health care industry.

The winner in the Sept. 11 GOP primary will face U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster, D-N.H., who is unopposed on the Democratic side.

During a July campaign stop in downtown Nashua, Kuster said she hoped to ride atop the Democrats’ so-called “blue wave” to reclaim control of Congress this year. On Monday, Blankenbeker said she believes there can instead be, as President Donald Trump refers to it, a “red wave.”

Blankenbeker said cutting taxes need to be the first step in getting to a balanced budget.

Republican 2nd Congressional District candidate Lynne Blankenbeker participates in a Monday debate at Nashua Community College.

“The deficit will never get reduced without a balanced budget,” she said.

On the economy, Burns, who considers himself the candidate for Trump’s MAGA (Make America Great Again) agenda said there needs to be more done to make sure the government does not hinder manufacturing.

All of the candidates support cutting taxes.

Belanger also considers the plight of New Hampshire manufacturing, and the flight of young New Hampshire natives from the state, leaving businesses without enough employees.

“The main thing is to keep workers here in New Hampshire,” he said.

Republican 2nd Congressional District candidate Robert Burns participates in a Monday debate at Nashua Community College.

Levenson called out Kuster for her vote against the Trump tax cuts.

“Ann Kuster voted against tax cuts that put money in the pocket of 83 percent of Americans,” Levenson said.

Negron pointed out that tax cuts need to come with spending reductions in order to reduce the deficit.

“No one is talking about spending,” he said.

On potential national security threats, Belanger supports Trump’s talks with North Korea.

Republican 2nd Congressional District candidate Stewart Levenson participates in a Monday debate at Nashua Community College.

“We have to keep our enemies close to us,” he said.

Levenson, a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs doctor who blew the whistle on the poor conditions at the Manchester VA hospital, said troops are leaving military service because of low pay and poor benefits, impacting military readiness and harming national security.

“That’s a danger to national defense,” he said.

Blankenbeker, a military combat nurse, said the loss of military leadership, as well as aging military infrastructure is a concern.

Negron, a veteran, claimed no one on the debate stage understood national security as well as he does. He said he will work to protect the homeland, promote economic growth and American influence around the world, all while supporting the troops at home and abroad.

Republican 2nd Congressional District candidate Steve Negron participates in a Monday debate at Nashua Community College.

Burns claimed members of the Islamic State group were coming over the border. He also said manufacturing and economic security need to be part of the discussion.

“We don’t even make light bulbs anymore in the U.S.,” he said.

On immigration, all the candidates agreed the border needs to be secure, with Levenson and Blankenbeker supporting building a wall at the border with Mexico.

Levenson, Blankenbeker as Burns mentioned the murder of Mollie Tibbetts as a reason for supporting hardline immigration policies. Tibbetts was murdered by someone who may have been in the country illegally. Her family has asked that her death not be used as a political prop.

Negron, the grandson of an immigrant, said people need to respect the law.

“My grandfather came over the right way,” he said.

Burns said something needs to be done about the issue of foreign women having pregnancy vacations in order to have babies in the U.S., thus having their children obtain American citizenship.

“That is something we do need to crack down on,” Burns said.

Belanger supports “redoing” the current immigration process.

When is comes to health care, most of the candidates said they want government out of health care, but they did not specify exactly what they mean by that. Burns said he wants people on government health care plans to pay more in copays to discourage them from going to the emergency room for primary care, and make room in the ERs for people with private insurance.

Levenson said there should be a safety net for people, and there also needs to be a middle-class solution for health care.“We need a plan middle-class people can afford,” he said.

On energy, deregulation is popular among the candidates. Burns wants to see more nuclear energy come online, and at the same time, he wants fewer energy regulations.

Though Burns tried to position himself as the MAGA choice, all candidates expressed desire to further Trump’s agenda in Washington, D.C. Negron said this is what matters most to Republican voters in the Sept. 11 primary.

“Who can help the president on day one?” Negron asked.

Two candidates in the crowded field did not take the debate stage, Gerard Beloin of Colebrook and Jay Mercer of Nashua.

New Hampshire’s sprawling 2nd Congressional District includes the cities of Nashua and Concord, while it stretches from the border of Massachusetts to the border of Canada. It is roughly twice as large in terms of geography when compared to the 1st Congressional District, which includes the cities of Manchester and Portsmouth.

Damien Fisher can be reached at 594-1245 or dfisher@nashuatelegraph.com or @Telegraph_DF.