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GOP won't budge on unity pledge, so 1st CD debate a bust

New Hampshire Union Leader

August 16. 2018 11:24PM
Republican District 1 congressional candidates Eddie Edwards, left, and state Sen. Andy Sanborn stand at the debate table in Concord Thursday night before Edwards had to leave for not signing the party's unity pledge. (KEVIN LANDRIGAN/UNION LEADER)

CONCORD — A long-awaited party-sponsored debate between the two major Republican candidates for 1st District congressman fell apart Thursday night after Eddie Edwards of Dover refused to sign a pledge to back state Sen. Andy Sanborn of Bedford if Sanborn wins the Sept. 11 primary.

Edwards came up to the stage and sat beside Sanborn in the hope that Republican State Chairman Wayne MacDonald would drop his demand that all candidates had to sign the nominee endorsement pledge to take part in the debate at the Grappone Conference Center.

“People say ‘Oh Eddie, just sign it. You can change your mind later.’ Really, is that what politics has come to that nothing we sign in earnest means anything?” Edwards said during an interview.

“I will attend the unity breakfast, I will not support the Democratic nominee, I will not mount a write-in campaign but I’m not going to sign something I don’t believe in.”

Debate moderator and iHeart radio talk show host Jack Heath repeatedly asked MacDonald and Edwards if a compromise could be reached. “This seems rather simple to me but I’m not the candidate, I am not the party chairman,” said Heath, who ran for the 1st District seat in 1996 and lost to former Congressman John E. Sununu.

MacDonald said Sanborn and the five GOP candidates present for a 2nd District debate all signed the pledge and he couldn’t allow Edwards to take part if he refused.

“I have a great deal of respect for you. I have to ask you to do what all the other candidates have done. If you can’t, I’m sorry,” MacDonald told Edwards.

Prior to the state party chairman’s decision, Sanborn said Edwards should have to sign the pledge.

“These were rules that were set for all of us to do. I believe if we are going to participate we should participate equally,” Sanborn said.

The event became raucous as Sanborn supporters yelled “Sign it, Eddie” while supporters of Edwards loudly cheered their candidate when he exited the debate room.

A former police chief, Edwards has said Sanborn is fundamentally flawed given that he’s been criticized for sexually inappropriate comments made to a male intern and faced other accusations of bullying legislative staff and others.

“I do believe he has a character defect,” Edward said to supporters at the Concord VFW post prior to this debate.

Sanborn said the comment he made was a joke, he’s been cleared of any wrongdoing and no one has ever brought a complaint against him over the incident.

As soon as Eddie Edwards left the room, primary rival Sanborn referenced a $160,000 settlement Edwards made after leaving as director of liquor law enforcement.

“Mr. Edwards was forced to resign from the state of New Hampshire and ordered never to come back. Much of it was redacted,” Sanborn said.

The Edwards campaign released a letter of reference Edwards got upon leaving from state Liquor Commission Chairman Joseph Mollica, who praised Edwards’ service to the state.

During the one-hour event, Sanborn pushed for total repeal of Obamacare, tougher laws against illegal immigrants and more government deregulation to spur business growth.

Out in the hallway, Edwards insisted he’ll win the primary and said this debate controversy will not be decisive.

“There will be other debates. WMUR and the Union Leader are having one coming up and I’ll bet they won’t try to make me sign some silly piece of paper,” Edwards said.

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