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Just a few hours after our arrival in New Hampshire’s first district, fellow J Street staffer Elyssa Feder and I bundled up in puffy coats and mittens to hold Carol Shea-Porter signs outside a small hotel in North Conway, NH. We were just half an hour away from the second debate between JStreetPAC-endorsee Shea-Porter and her opponents.
The entrance drive and parking lot were lined with Shea-Porter signs and volunteers chatting about the upcoming the debate in the hotel. Shea-Porter’s husband, Gene, introduced us to staffers and supporters, who have been working on this campaign for months. The conversations broke off as the candidate drove in, and everyone cheered as she exited the car and entered the hotel.
There was no such fanfare for Shea-Porter’s opponents, Rep. Frank Guinta (R) or Shawn O’Connor (I). We saw a couple of O’Connor signs in the grass around the parking lot and noticed one Guinta staffer walking away with a handful of them, but no supporters were there to hold them up.
We moved inside and settled down to watch the debate. After opening statements, the moderator started off with a question about foreign policy. Elyssa and I looked at each other, excited that the issues of diplomacy that we care so much about were playing a role in this debate in upstate New Hampshire. Rep. Guinta started with a typical, vague hawkish response about how we must combat ISIS with a strong military and border security.
Next to speak was Shawn O’Connor, a millionaire self-funding his campaign. He took a strange tack, attacking Shea-Porter for taking “pro-Iran PAC money,” asking “what did Iran get for that $140,000?” He was apparently referring to the money that J Street supporters, have given to Shea-Porter’s campaigns over the last few cycles through JStreetPAC. O’Connor was irresponsibly rejecting the role of diplomacy in the creation of a safer world – and deliberately confusing support from pro-Israel Americans with support for Iran. It was disheartening to see the type of lies and distortions that have characterized the Trump campaign take hold in down ballot races as well.
My anger turned to excitement when I realized that we at J Street and in the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement had a champion on stage. Shea-Porter fired back, “It’s J Street which is pro-Israel, pro-peace… in other words what they’d really like to have is a two-state solution.”
The candidate we traveled over 500 miles to work for went on the offense for pro-diplomacy positions: “If you had been there, you would know this is a terrible thing to say about people who support Israel and also support peace.”
In New Hampshire’s First District, where social security, jobs and the heroin and opioid crisis are major voting issues, it’s clear that diplomacy in the Middle East is also on the ballot. Recent polls show O’Connor running far behind Shea-Porter. Creating a false choice between pro-Israel and pro-diplomacy stances is not helping him move up in the polls. Nor is attacking Shea-Porter for her principled stances on foreign policy.
O’Connor and Guinta’s failed brand of reckless foreign policy must not define the next Congress. With our help and yours, Shea-Porter can emerge victorious from this race, one of many to demonstrate how support for diplomacy and a two-state solution are winning political positions.