DOVER, N.H. — The Republican and Democrat in New Hampshire's 1st Congressional District race understand they have the chance to make history but are approaching their roles as trailblazers a little differently.
Democrat Chris Pappas is embracing the fact he could become the state's first openly gay congressman while his Republican opponent, Eddie Edwards, is directing questions away from the fact he would be the first African-American House member in the predominantly white state whose black population is less than 2 percent. Instead, he wanted to keep the focus on the issues.
Both men survived a crowded primary field Tuesday night that had 17 candidates and offer voters a clear contrast. They are competing to fill the seat left open after Democrat Carol Shea-Porter chose to step down after four non-consecutive terms. It is the first time in 16 years the seat is open.
"For me as an individual, it means my message has resonated with folks," Edwards told The Associated Press, speaking from his home in Dover. "In terms of a black person who is conservative, that is nothing new for our party. The first blacks ever elected to Congress were Republicans. This is a legacy of our party. That is not the narrative that has been painted but that is certainly the legacy of the party."
Edwards, a Trump supporter who has served in the Navy and was a small town police chief, insisted that "race doesn't make you special."
"In America, unlike anywhere else, your race your background your ethnicity, your gender, your sexual orientation has nothing to do with you being special," he said. "What makes you special is what you give back to your community, what you give back to your family."
Pappas was more willing to say that his victory in November would send a message that went beyond the issues he is campaigning on like fighting the opioid crisis and supporting renewable energy.
"It's important to be honest about who you are. I think that sends a positive message to others out there who are questioning whether they have a place in their own communities," said Pappas, speaking at his family's Manchester restaurant. "At the end of the day. It's a message we do have to send — that people are welcome regardless of who you are or who you love. There is a place for you in this community and in this state."
Along with possibly making history, the two candidates offer voters a clear contrast.
Edwards is expected to continue pushing an agenda that includes support for gun rights, limited government and repealing the Affordable Care Act. Pappas, a former state lawmaker who is serving his third term on the governor's Executive Council, has campaigned on expanding access to health care, combating climate change and supporting abortion rights.
Pappas is also expect to make Trump an issue and argue that he could serve as a check on the president's policies.
"We have to show in this election that we are better than what Donald Trump represents," Pappas said. "We have got to repudiate his disgusting statements and some of the policies that we've seen on full display. We have a policy of family separation where we have 500 kids yet to be reunited with their parents because of what this administration has done. We shouldn't be standing for that in this country."
Edwards, who has received the support of Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani and other Trump supporters, said it's time to stop bashing the president and to find a way to work with him.
"The American voter, the Granite State voter, the families they want people who are going to work together to make sure their life is better," he said. "Sending people to Washington who want to create conflict over and over again doesn't help any of us. The folks who think we can just attack the president, remove him ... you think the next president will have an easier shot at this?"
Edwards also said the fact that Trump faced allegations from several women for sexual misconduct would not keep him from supporting his "American First" agenda. He also tried to draw a distinction from his criticism for his primary rival state Sen. Andy Sanborn for alleged sexual harassment in the statehouse and Trump's alleged misdeeds.
"I'm not the moral police. This is what people misunderstand," he said. "What you do in your personal life — you have those consequences and you have that burden. What you do in your public life on taxpayer's dime is a different matter altogether. For me when I look what the president has done for America putting America' first, that is the agenda I support."