On Wednesday Oct. 7, NHPR hosted a debate for New Hampshire’s 1st Congressional District featuring incumbent Democrat Rep. Chris Pappas and challenger Matt Mowers.
In the debate’s opening statements, Mowers, who previously served in the Trump administration’s Department of State, wasted little time on pleasantries and quickly attacked Pappas’ support for a Washington D.C. income tax. He asserted that Pappas has “undermined our law enforcement” and claimed that Pappas is “benefiting from $1.5 million in dark corporate special interest money” for his campaign.
Pappas pushed back, establishing his roots as a New Hampshire native and small business owner as well as highlighting his record in Congress.
The first debate topic surrounded the federal response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Mowers accused Pappas of “playing politics” by blaming the response on the presidential administration, while Pappas claimed that Mowers is an “apologist for the Trump administration’s failed response.”
The topic shifted as Mowers brought up a concern that Pappas has voted with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi 100% of the time during his two years in Congress. Pappas corrected this claim and touted that it is a “false statistic” because Pelosi, serving as Speaker of the House, has only voted “a few dozen times,” while Pappas has voted over 900.
Pappas’ claim is mostly true as Nancy Pelosi has voted 79 times while Pappas has been in Congress compared to his own 900-plus voted. Of these 79, he has voted in agreeance with Pelosi 100% of the time.
The topic shifted to taxes as Mowers claimed that Pappas supports “the largest tax hike in American history,” pointing to the Biden campaign’s plan to cut the standard deduction which had been increased under the 2017 tax cuts. Pappas responded by further solidifying his plan to raise taxes on the wealthy and never on working class Americans.
The conversation moved to racial disparities in health care as a result of the pandemic. Pappas spoke of statistics that Black people in New Hampshire are six times as likely to be hospitalized due to COVID-19 as white people, and four times as likely for Hispanic people. Pappas pushed increased funding and availability for the Affordable Care Act as a solution. Mowers cited his own credibility as a health care policy adviser.
Mowers was asked directly for his thoughts on President Trump’s debate night comments on white supremacy to which he responded, “White supremacy, neo-Nazism, name any hate group they have no space for dialogue in our country, we need to call out extremism on all sides.” He then went on to say, “I wish the president was clearer in what he said to denounce them, I absolutely do.”
The topic then changed to racial injustice in policing. Mowers pushed for increased training for police, funding for body cameras, and banning chokeholds. He then attacked Pappas for voting to end qualified immunity as a part of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. Pappas responded, claiming that Mowers was only trying to “inflame conversation” and that he “refused to do nothing” on the issue.
Manchester police unions who endorsed Pappas in 2018 endorsed Mowers in this election, specifically surrounding this issue.
As the conversation shifted to health care, Pappas attacked Mowers for his previous work with pharmaceutical companies, which Mowers described as “high impact work” on issues like HIV/AIDS and PTSD treatment.
On the topic of climate change, the candidates had some agreement on the banning of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances PFAS (long lasting industrial chemicals that pollute water supplies) and holding China and other “bad actors” accountable for their polluting. Pappas voiced support for green infrastructure funding while Mowers advocated for market-based solutions.
Both candidates voiced support for a free and fair election, as well as commending New Hampshire local officials and the United States Postal Service for their hard work in ensuring a fair election.
The final question of the debate asked the candidates if they supported the electoral college. Pappas responded that he believes in “one person one vote” and that the president should be elected via popular vote. Mowers voiced his support for preservation of the Electoral College claiming that it “protects New Hampshire’s role in the election” by giving rural areas a voice in the electoral process.
Following the debate, The New Hampshire followed up with Congressman Pappas on some of the key points to the debate.
On the topic of qualified immunity, Pappas affirmed that while he does not support ending qualified immunity, which keeps government officials from being liable for constitutional violations, and did not approve of it being in the George Floyd Act, he voted for the bill anyways in order to take a stand on the issue.
As for climate change, Pappas further made his point that “the cost of climate change is too great,” and that the issue should be looked at from an economic standpoint, creating new jobs in green infrastructure in the process.
Pappas also added that the high costs of college and student debt is paramount to the success of young people in the country and promoted policies, such as increased federal funding for college and capping interest rates to make student debt less daunting.
The New Hampshire also asked Pappas for his opinion on the current Supreme Court nominee and whether Democrats should use extreme measures such as court packing or ending the filibuster to rebalance the court. Pappas suggested that “the people should vote before a Supreme Court Justice is confirmed,” and claimed the current nomination is outrageous as it seeks to “repeal the Affordable Care Act and take away a woman’s right to choose.”
Pappas explicitly stated that he does not support packing the court but would rather pursue polices to protect the rights of those who could be victimized.
The Mowers campaign did not respond to a request for an interview, but their press briefing after the debate claimed a decisive victory over Pappas with Mowers stating that he will “fight for New Hampshire, not Nancy Pelosi.”
Pappas is currently leading Mowers 49% to 41% in a recent Saint Anselm’s College poll. Pappas is looking to solidify his popularity among college students while Mowers is looking to close the gap with less than three weeks until the Nov. 3 election.