EXETER – The primary for New Hampshire’s 1st District is only 40 days away, and the Democratic candidates had some pointed messages for voters and each other in a forum Thursday night.

All 11 candidates shared the stage for the Rockingham County Democrat’s 1st District forum at Exeter High School. 

One of the following Democratic candidates will go on to face the victor of the five-way Republican race and a Libertarian in a congested field of 17 total candidates vying to fill the seat of retiring Congresswomen Carol Shea-Porter:

Participating were former Department of Veteran Affairs Assistant Secretary Maura Sullivan of Portsmouth, Executive Councilor Chris Pappas of Manchester, Business executive Deaglan McEachern of Portsmouth, AFL-CIO president and state Rep. Mark MacKenzie of Manchester, former Stafford County Attorney Lincoln Soldati of Portsmouth, state Rep. Mindi Messmer of Rye, Shea-Porter’s former Chief of Staff Naomi Andrews of Epping, Rochester City Attorney Terence O’Rourke of Alton, policy strategist Levi Sanders of Claremont and accountant William Martin of Manchester.

Jabs were traded throughout the night, as Levi Sanders of Claremont called out candidates for their position on healthcare for all, claiming “a lot of folks on this stage do not believe it,” after using his opening remarks to state “Chris Pappas and Maura Sullivan do not (support healthcare for all).”

The most diverse statements pertained to Immigration and Customs Enforcement also referred to as I.C.E. 

Not having I.C.E. is “totally ridiculous to me,” said Terence O’Rourke of Alton, an Army veteran.

“I.C.E. is not the issue,” Sullivan, a fellow veteran claimed. “The problem is this president,” she added.

Naomi Andrews of Epping and former Chief of Staff to Shea-Porter stated that the organization needs to be reformed and called for the Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to resign.

Lincoln Soldati of Portsmouth and Mindi Messmer of Rye were the only candidates to definitively support abolishing I.C.E. “This is nothing more than a racist policy,” Messmer said.

Other points of discussion included the prioritization of gun policies, including but not limited to background checks, common sense gun reform and three-dimensionally printed weapons.

Campaign finance reform was a major talking point towards the end of the forum, initially raised by Chris Pappas who claimed “I am not taking any corporate PAC money.” Sullivan echoed much the same, stating “I am not taking a dime from corporate PAC money."

Sanders received audible boos from the crowd when he proposed yielding part of his closing remarks, in order to have a debate on Medicare with Sullivan, to moderator and State Party Chair Raymond Buckley.

Candidates used their closing statements to underscore significant final points. Soldati called for the impeachment of President Donald Trump, O’Rourke slighted Pappas and Sullivan as establishment candidates. Sullivan defended the amount of money she has raised by mentioning Republican candidate State Senator Andy Sanborn partially self-funding his campaign and claiming she’s raising enough to beat him.

The candidates will all meet a final time before the Sept. 11 primary in a forum on Aug. 30.

The candidate that emerges from the congested Democratic field will face the winner of the Republican primary in the general election on Nov. 6.