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New Hampshire’s 1st District Set for History-Making Race

Democrat Pappas and Republican Edwards face off in a contest of firsts

Chris Pappas won the Democratic nomination in New Hampshire’s 1st District on Tuesday. (Courtesy Chris Pappas for Congress)
Chris Pappas won the Democratic nomination in New Hampshire’s 1st District on Tuesday. (Courtesy Chris Pappas for Congress)

Chris Pappas, a member of New Hampshire’s executive council, has won the Democratic nomination for the state’s swing 1st District, defeating a better-funded candidate who only recently moved to there.

He starts the general election to succeed retiring Democratic Rep. Carol Shea-Porter as the slight favorite against Republican former police chief Eddie Edwards. In a contest of firsts, Pappas would be the first openly gay representative from the Granite State, while Edwards would be the state’s first African-American member of Congress.

With 84 percent of precincts reporting, Pappas led an 11-way Democratic field with 42 percent of the vote, according to The Associated Press. Marine veteran Maura Sullivan was second with 30 percent. Levi Sanders, the son of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, trailed in seventh place with 2 percent. He didn’t have his father’s endorsement, struggled to raise money and didn’t live in the district.

On the GOP side, with 84 percent of precincts reporting, Edwards led a five-way field with 48 percent of the vote, according to the AP. State Sen. Andy Sanborn was in second place with 41 percent.

The 1st District is one of the GOP’s few pickup opportunities this year. President Donald Trump carried it by 2 points in 2016. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the general election Tilts Democratic.

Sullivan had raised the most money during the primary and benefited from support from EMILY’s List. But Pappas had much deeper ties to the district, as well as the backing of three out of the four members of the state’s all-female congressional delegation. (Shea-Porter backed her former chief of staff and campaign manager Naomi Andrews, who was in fourth place with 8 percent of the vote.)

The 1st is one of 12 Democrat-held districts that backed Trump in 2016. Shea-Porter and former GOP Rep. Frank Guinta traded the seat back and forth for the past four cycles. But for the first time in over a decade, neither ran this year. Shea-Porter announced her retirement last fall.

State and national Democrats had long been interested in Pappas, whom they attempted to recruit after Shea-Porter’s 2014 loss. His family has owned a popular Manchester diner for over 100 years. Pappas considered running in 2016 but ultimately deferred to the congresswoman.

With the backing of End Citizens United, he ran on getting money out of politics. “I’m the only candidate in this race pledging that the majority of my campaign donors live right here in New Hampshire,” Pappas said in a recent spot.

That was an implicit attack on Sullivan, who raised more money from out of state than any other candidate in the country, according to an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics. His mailers also called attention to the fact that she’d raised $54,000 from Bain Capital executives.

Besides her out-of-state fundraising, Sullivan faced a series of negative headlines, beginning with her residency. A former assistant secretary of Veterans Affairs and senior Pentagon official in the Obama administration, she moved to the state in 2017, only after considering running for Congress in two districts in her native Illinois. Recent local headlines also highlighted her failure to vote in the past two midterm elections and the 2016 presidential primary.

Both Edwards and Sanborn ran as conservatives who supported Trump’s agenda, but they attacked each other’s credentials and experience.

Edwards ran with the support of New York City Mayor Rudy Guliani, West Virginia Rep. Alex X. Mooney, a member of the House Freedom Caucus, and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.

Edwards had attacked Sanborn for “serial predatory behavior” because of alleged inappropriate comments he made to male and female staffers. An investigation by the state attorney general found no criminal wrongdoing. Having loaned his campaign $500,000, Sanborn had an advantage on the airwaves. He also had support from Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie, and from Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s leadership PAC. The National Rifle Association has backed him too.

Edwards starts the general election at a financial disadvantage. He ended the pre-primary reporting period with $175,000 to Pappas’ $348,000. 

Watch: House Ratings Change in Favor of Democrats

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