ROCHESTER, N.H. — The son of independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders explained Thursday night at a candidates’ forum why he was running for Congress in New Hampshire 1st District, a district in which he does not live.
Levi Sanders joined seven other Democrats at the forum in Rochester bidding to succeed retiring four-term Democratic Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter.
Sanders lives in Claremont, in the western part of the state near the Vermont border and far from the 1st District. While it is uncommon for a candidate to live outside of the district in which they are running, it is legal.
“From a constitutional basis, I have a right to run. I’ve lived in New Hampshire for 15 years,” Sanders said.
The legal services analyst added that “when I talk with people, they don’t ask me that question. They ask about issues.”
But Mary Cady, of Newmarket, disagreed. The Democratic voter who is still deciding which candidate she will eventually back said Sander’s answer was unsatisfactory.
“Legally he has the right to run. There’s no question about that,” Cady said. “But I feel that he should be running in his own district. I feel that there are already too many people in this race and I don’t understand why he would join in knowing that.”
State Rep. Chuck Grassie, of Rochester, who also took part in the “speed-dating” style forum, said Sanders “is a good guy.”
But asked if he would vote for him, Grassie answered “I would like to see somebody who lives in the district and who has history with the district.”
Bill Baber, of Dover, sat next to Grassie. The former state representative said the commotion over where Sanders lives isn’t “the biggest issue for me. I think I care more about the character of the person, more about their position on the issues.”
Other candidates included Executive Councilor Chris Pappas, of Manchester, Maura Sullivan, of Portsmouth, a U.S. Marine veteran who served in the Iraq War and later worked at the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Pentagon during the administration of former President Barack Obama, and state Rep. Mark Mackenzie, of Manchester, a former firefighter who served more than two decades as head of the state chapter of the AFL-CIO.
Also attending were retired Portsmouth trial lawyer Lincoln Soldati, a former Somersworth mayor who also spent 17 years as Strafford County attorney, state Rep. Mindi Messmer, of Rye, an environmental scientist, Army and Iraq War veteran and current Rochester city attorney Terence O’Rourke and technology executive and community activist Deaglan McEachern, of Portsmouth.
The forum took place hours after Sullivan’s campaign reported raising more than $475,000 in the first three months of the year and one day after Pappas received the first major endorsement in the race from Democratic U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan.
About 90 voters — seated at eight different tables — attended the forum. The candidates rotated from table to table, taking questions directly from voters seated at those tables.
There are two declared Republican candidates in the race. They are businessman and conservative state Sen. Andy Sanborn, of Bedford, and Eddie Edwards, of Dover, a Navy veteran and former South Hampton police chief who also served as top law enforcement officer for the state’s liquor commission. Mark Hounsell, of Conway, a Carroll County commissioner and former state senator, ended his bid Thursday morning.