Openly gay politician Chris Pappas could go all the way in November after a decisive win in New Hampshire’s Democratic primary race.
The 38-year-old sailed to victory on Tuesday by a wide margin — winning 42.4 percent of the overall vote in an extremely crowded field. Ten challengers opposed Pappas in the Democratic primary for New Hampshire’s First Congressional District.
None came within 10 points of Pappas, who was considered a frontrunner in the race.
Maura Sullivan, a former Obama administration official, finished in second with 30.2 percent. Meanwhile, Levi Sanders — the son of former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders — landed in seventh place, taking 1.7 percent of ballots. The candidate was not endorsed by his famous father.
Tuesday’s finish follows an extremely contentious race in which Pappas accused Sullivan of homophobia. Her campaign sent out a mailer a week before the primary referring to her opponent as a fake progressive with “no real backbone.”
His supporters took issue with the assertion Pappas is “weak,” viewing it as a “dog whistle” attack on the candidate’s sexual orientation.
“Suggesting that a gay man is weak or spineless is among the nastiest attacks I’ve seen in any primary,” State Sen. David Watters, uncle of Fox News anchor Jesse Watters, told the local news station WMUR, “and no New Hampshire Democrat, especially those of us who fought for marriage equality, transgender equality, and a conversion therapy ban, should stand for these smears.”
Pappas will now face off against Eddie Edwards, a police chief backed by Donald Trump, in the November general election. Edwards prevailed in a six-way race for the GOP nomination — defeating his nearest challenger, State Sen. Andy Sanborn, by almost seven points.
Either candidate would represent history made for New Hampshire. Pappas would be the state’s first openly LGBTQ representative to Congress, while Edwards would be the first black man to hold the title.
Pappas, a former state lawmaker and member of the New Hampshire Executive Council, recognized his victory’s importance to the LGBTQ community yesterday. In an address to supporters as returns rolled in, he discussed meeting with an LGBTQ student in Manchester who is “unsure of her place in our community.”
The longtime politico pledged to be an advocate for New Hampshire voters like her, those who feel like they don’t have a voice.
“She needs a role model and a champion, too,” Pappas said yesterday evening, “and I hope this historic victory tonight has some small impact in making her understand this fact: you, too, are welcome here, and regardless of who you are or who you love, the sky’s the limit.”
Clinching a win in November may be no easy task, however. The First District is one of New Hampshire’s most solidly purple areas, with the U.S. House seat changing hands between Democrats and Republicans five times since 2003.
Incumbent Democrat Carol Shea-Porter, who is term-limited from seeking reelection, won by just 1.3 points in 2016. The district went for Trump in the presidential race.
The Victory Fund, an advocacy group which helps elect LGBTQ candidates to public office, claimed that keeping the First District blue is key to winning a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives next year. To take back the House, Democrats need to flip 24 GOP seats.
Annise Parker, president and CEO of the Victory Fund, claimed Pappas is primed for the challenge.
“He was born and raised in the district, is a fierce advocate for fairness and equality, and will fight tirelessly to push forward policies that advance those principles,” Parker said in a statement. “We need change in Washington, and a November victory for Chris is critical to securing a pro-equality majority in the next U.S. Congress.”
But in yesterday’s speech, Pappas didn’t touch on party politics. Instead he stressed the need for bipartisanship.
Pappas, who serves as a close advisor to conservative Gov. Chris Sununu, called for building “a broad-based coalition of Democrats, independents, and Republicans [who] focus on what we can do when we look out for one another.”
“The time for deception, division, and petty politics is over, and the time for decency, unity, and progress is nearly upon us,” Pappas said.
“But we won’t get there if we’re not successful on November 6th,” he added.
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