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Swett: Kuster stands at far left

Last modified: 9/9/2010 12:00:00 AM
Katrina Swett called her primary opponent an unelectable progressive last night, but Ann McLane Kuster said district voters agree with her positions.

"Annie, you have cast yourself as the very, very progressive candidate and have been warmly supported by the far-left progressive movement," Swett, a human rights activist from Bow, said in a televised debate between the two Democrats running for Congress in the 2nd District. "In a year when everyone understands that the country is moving back toward the center and away from the more left, progressive point of view, if you were to become the nominee, would you try to distance yourself from your own positions?"

Swett pointed to Kuster's support for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan and "strong opposition" to nuclear power. Kuster said last night she would vote to cut off funding for the war effort because she supports a more targeted approach to prevent terrorist attacks. She said she would support nuclear power, but only after the resolution of her concerns about cost, transportation and security.

Swett said last night any response to climate change must include nuclear power as part of a portfolio of renewable energy solutions because "we will not break our addiction to fossil fuels without it." She supported President Obama's decision to send an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan this year and says her goal, once elected, would be ensuring the president abides by his pledge to begin withdrawing troops in July 2011.

"Actually Katrina, I think it's your views that are out-of-step with the voters of the 2nd Congressional District," said Kuster, an attorney from Hopkinton.

Kuster said she has amassed a "winning coalition" of more than 2,000 local activists, the major abortion rights organizations, the union of state firefighters and the League of Conservation Voters.

Kuster had asked Swett whether she would have voted for the Bush tax cuts, given that a disproportionate amount of the benefit went to the highest earners. While running for the same congressional seat in 2002, Swett had said she supported the tax cuts, though she said she would have preferred that middle-income people received more of the benefit.

Last night, Swett said she and Kuster agree on extending tax cuts for the middle class and letting tax cuts for the wealthiest expire. But, for the first time this election, Swett stressed that her opposition to extending the tax cuts for the highest earners was because of today's high deficit.

"I'm not going to apologize as a New Hampshire Granite Stater for supporting low taxes for as many people as possible," Swett said. "That's nothing to be embarrassed about in New Hampshire."

Swett also called Kuster a "vigorous supporter of an income tax in New Hampshire." Kuster supported former state senator Mark Fernald in his 2002 gubernatorial bid, citing at the time his support for an income tax to stabilize education funding in the state. Kuster did not respond last night to several of Swett's references to an income tax.

After the debate, Kuster's campaign latched on to Swett's positioning - and repositioned it.

"Does she think she is running in the Republican primary?" Kuster spokesman Neil Sroka wrote in an e-mail to reporters.

The two candidates addressed a range of issues in last night's debate, sponsored by WMUR and the New Hampshire Union Leader. Both the Swett and Kuster campaigns have turned the profession of lobbying into a political insult throughout the election, with Swett criticizing clients Kuster represented during 20 years as a State House lobbyist and Kuster calling her opponent a hypocrite after Swett was found to have registered as a lobbyist in Washington.

One questioner last night asked how lobbying is any different than being paid to advocate for voters as a member of Congress. Neither candidate rushed to answer, though Swett ultimately said that she would be representing the people, not a client. But first, Swett criticized Kuster for referring to her lobbying work as being a "public policy advocate."

"She's so conflicted about this career of hers that for the longest time she could not bring herself to say the L-word," Swett said.

Kuster said Swett was engaging in "cheap attacks" that failed to put "people over politics."

"I think, Katrina, frankly, it's become an obsession with you," Kuster said. "Your psychoanalysis of me is not necessary, but I think you've seemed fixated on this issue throughout this campaign."

On efforts to reform education, the candidates agreed that the federal No Child Left Behind law failed by emphasizing competition more than collaboration. Kuster said No Child Left Behind and the Obama administration's Race to the Top, which awarded competitive grants to states that demonstrated reform, "created a punitive process in terms of assessment." She said she would encourage schools to look to law firms and businesses for models of mentoring and continuing education they could apply with teachers.

Swett said reform must start with parents becoming more involved in their children's education, but she said government efforts should not try to replicate business models.

"Children are not commodities. Education is not a business," Swett said. "We need an approach that is less pitting one school district against another, one student against another."

Asked about the proposal to build a cultural center including a mosque at the site of the World Trade Center in Manhattan, both candidates said they weren't in a position to decide. Swett said she believed supporters and opponents of the plan should negotiate until they found a solution, while Kuster said the people of New York state should decide. But Kuster said the topic was just a political distraction to voters in the 2nd District.

"The most they think about foreign policy, frankly, is when their jobs get outsourced to Mexico or China," Kuster said. "That's what people are concerned about in New Hampshire."

The candidates agreed they would not raise the retirement age needed to qualify for full Social Security benefits, but they proposed differing ideas to protect the program's future. Swett said she would like to increase the cap on the amount of income subject to the Social Security tax, now $106,000. Kuster said strengthening the overall economy would make the program sustainable.


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