By CHELSEY POLLOCK
Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY — It was a full plate at the Greater Londonderry Chamber of Commerce candidates breakfast yesterday morning, with political hopefuls for both federal and state office in attendance.
After a light breakfast at the Derry Municipal Center, candidates were each given about 12 minutes to make their case and answer some audience questions.
Gov. John Lynch kicked off the event, asking voters to look past what he called the “political rhetoric” of the campaign and take at face value an auditor’s report finding a 7 percent decrease in spending in the past two years.
“As we face the next biennium budget, we need to approach it the same way I approached this budget, meticulously, scrutinizing every single dollar to ensure that taxpayer money is spent as efficiently and effectively as possible,” Lynch said.
Lynch cited job creation as his Number 1 priority, highlighting unemployment programming he has pursued during his term.
“We have challenges in New Hampshire, admittedly we do, but we’re still a great state,” he said. “... I know that working together we’ll continue to make New Hampshire the special state that it is.”
But John Stephen, his Republican opponent, challenged Lynch’s 7 percent spending cut, saying Lynch used “accounting gimmicks” to move expenditures from the general fund to reach that number.
If elected, Stephen said he would ask all state department heads to look for a further 10 percent in reductions.
“I believe in state employees. They can make it happen,” he said. “... At the end of the day, I just want ideas for efficiencies.”
With decreased spending, limited government and tax cuts, Stephen said he hoped to restore the state to its traditional values. “These values are not Republican or Democrat or Independent,” he said. “It’s about New Hampshire, and I believe these values are at risk.”
On the congressional side, former Manchester mayor Republican Frank Guinta faced off with incumbent Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, who is seeking a third term in District 1.
Citing city improvements under his watch, Guinta said he would bring his Manchester leadership experience to Washington.
“The last four years of policy have not worked,” Guinta said of Congress. “They have not improved conditions in New Hampshire and have not improved the condition of our country.”
Guinta said his first action if elected would be to repeal the hotly contested health care reform bill that had been championed by Shea-Porter.
“We ought to start judging members of Congress by what pieces of legislation they repeal, because if you believe in limited government, if you believe in smaller, effective government, we should focus on the legislation that infringes on personal rights,” he said.
But Shea-Porter stood by the bill, though acknowledging there is room for improvement.
“I have never said this bill is the perfect antidote to everything. We can do more,” she said. “... We pushed the train out of the station, but there will be some stops along the way.”
Guinta further challenged Shea-Porter and the Democrat- led Congress for not doing more to bolster the economy, but Shea-Porter asked voters for patience.
“We got the economy on life support,” she said. “Everybody knows that if you wait until the patient is on life support, it’s going to take time, and it is taking time.”
Also in attendance yesterday were U.S. Rep. Paul Hodes, a Democrat running for U.S. Senate, and state Senate candidates Kristi St. Laurent, a Democrat running for District 19, Republican Jim Rausch also for District 19, incumbent state Sen. Sharon Carson, a Republican for District 14, and Democrat Tammy Siekmann challenging for District 14.
And while discussions inside remained relatively tame during yesterday’s event, supporters of candidates on both sides made their voices heard outside with bullhorns, large signs and clever rhymes.
Carl Tomanelli of Londonderry set up his Guinta signs in front of the municipal building at 6:30 a.m. to prepare for yesterday’s event, which kicked off an hour later.
“I think it’s very important that we get involved, and I think this race is about having someone stand up for the issues that are important to the citizens of District 1,” Tomanelli said. “We’re paying these people and (Shea-Porter) forgot that her job is not kissing up to (Nancy) Pelosi, but standing up for the people of New Hampshire.”
On the other side, Chaz Proulx of Raymond brought with him a guitar, harmonica and some stinging lyrics to hurl at Guinta supporters.
“I’ve been with Carol since before her first campaign,” he said. “The one thing about Carol, personally, is that she has passion and conviction. From the first campaign Carol told the voters of New Hampshire that she would expand health care and she never wavered from that stance.”
Guinta spokesman Brett Bosse attributed the earlymorning fervor to a passion among voters.
“There’s a lot of passion and a lot of people who took time out of their morning to support Frank, and Democrats have a lot of people here, too,” Bosse said. “It’s just a testament to how passionate people are in changing the direction of our country.”