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Senate candidates square off



Last modified: Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Republican Senate candidate Kelly Ayotte "caters to special interests" and "wants to let Wall Street run wild," Democrat Paul Hodes charged yesterday. Hodes, Ayotte said, missed 100 votes in the House and has "supported spending measure after spending measure that put this country on the path to bankruptcy."

During yesterday's debate at New England College - sponsored by NEC's Center for Civic Engagement and the Concord Monitor, New Hampshire Business Review, WMUR.com, and WGIR radio - the candidates squared off on everything from health care to the conflict in the Congo.

Hodes's first attack on Ayotte came during his answer to the first question, regarding how to create jobs. "There is a clear choice this election. Are people going to have someone who stands up for creating jobs, rebuilding the middle class, or someone who caters to special interests?" Hodes said.

Ayotte shot back that Hodes supports tax increases for small businesses.

From that point on, the candidates sparred continuously. Perhaps the only consensus came on a question regarding Israel, when both candidates agreed on Israel's importance as a U.S. ally and declined to criticize Israel for continuing to build settlements.

Ayotte has been ahead in almost every poll throughout the campaign. A Rasmussen poll released yesterday found Ayotte beating Hodes, 51 percent to 44 percent. The candidates will meet for two more debates before the Nov. 2 elections.

One tense moment for Ayotte came when Hodes quoted from an e-mail exchange between Ayotte and her now-campaign strategist Rob Varsalone, which was released by the Department of Justice in response to multiple Right-to-Know requests. The exchange was from October 2006, after the murder of police Officer Michael Briggs. Ayotte would later successfully win a death penalty verdict against Briggs's killer, Michael Addison.

Varsalone e-mailed Ayotte about the likelihood of then-U.S. Rep. Charlie Bass, a Republican, losing the upcoming House race to Hodes, with the subject "Get ready to run . . ." Ayotte responded, "Have you been following the last 2 Weeks. A police officer was killed and I announced that I would seek the death penalty?"

To which Varsalone wrote back, "I know, I read about it. Where does AG Ayotte stand on the Death Penalty? BY THE SWITCH."

Hodes asked yesterday, "Wasn't it wrong to use the Briggs murder case in an official e-mail with a discussion of campaign strategy about personal political ambitions?"

Ayotte responded that one of the most serious decisions she made as attorney general was whether to seek the death penalty in the Addison case. "I handled the case with the utmost integrity, reviewing and prosecuting the case myself personally," Ayotte said.

Ayotte said she made the decision to ask for the death penalty based solely on the facts of the case. Ayotte said Varsalone is a long-time friend.

"I don't agree with everything he wrote in the e-mail," Ayotte said.

Ayotte then attacked Hodes's record as a two-term congressman. Ayotte said Hodes missed 100 votes since deciding to run for Senate - including a vote on extending unemployment benefits. Hodes has refused to say where he was during the vote, though he was scheduled to appear in Las Vegas the next day at the liberal bloggers convention Netroots Nation.

"You missed over 100 votes on behalf of the people of New Hampshire," Ayotte said. "How about showing up for work?"

Ayotte asked Hodes where he was during the unemployment vote, and Hodes again would not give a specific answer, beyond saying that he had a "scheduling conflict."

"I was out of state and couldn't get back," Hodes said.

Some of the most heated discussions came on controversial bills or policies that have come before Congress during President Obama's administration. On tax policy, Ayotte has said she will not support raising taxes. She supports extending all of President Bush's tax cuts - while Hodes and most Democrats would not extend those on individuals making more than $200,000. Hodes took Ayotte's pledge to mean that she would give tax breaks to corporations that send jobs overseas. And he accused Ayotte of wanting "to give tax breaks to millionaires."

Ayotte responded that not extending the Bush tax cuts would mean raising taxes on 750,000 U.S. businesses - and taking $300 million out of the New Hampshire economy.

(The nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation and the Tax Policy Center estimate that 750,000 businesses - equal to 3 percent of filers with business income - pay at the top two income tax rates and would be affected by the Democrats' proposal.)

Ayotte denied the charge that she would give tax breaks for shipping jobs overseas. "That's false," Ayotte said. "All I've said is I will not raise taxes on individuals or small business."

Hodes also accused Ayotte of wanting to "let Wall Street run wild" because she opposed the new financial regulations signed into law this summer. Ayotte said the laws do not address the problems with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored organizations that back mortgages. They also created more regulatory hurdles for community banks.

And Ayotte said that during the recession, Hodes served on the House Financial Services Committee - which has the primary duty of overseeing Wall Street.

Ayotte then asked Hodes whether he read a provision in the new health care reform law that requires businesses to file a tax form every time they buy goods valued over $600. Hodes responded by quoting former president Franklin Delano Roosevelt. "FDR said the important thing is to do something then you can always fix it as it goes along, as it happens," Hodes said, to boos from the audience.

Hodes said a fix for that particular problem passed the House and is being filibustered by Republicans in the Senate.

Ayotte responded, "Had you not voted for it in the first instance, our small business owners would not have to be facing the onerous provision right now."

Hodes - who voted for President Obama's economic stimulus bill - challenged Ayotte, the former state attorney general, to explain why she took money from the stimulus plan that she now opposes. Ayotte responded that it is the governor's job to choose whether to accept federal stimulus money.

"My job is to administer the funds effectively, and I did," Ayotte said.

Asked about her opposition to adoption by same-sex couples - which is legal in New Hampshire - Ayotte said that is her personal viewpoint, but she believes issues of gay adoption and gay marriage should be left to the state. Hodes similarly cited states' rights when asked why he did not take a position on same-sex marriage when the Legislature was debating it. Hodes said he supports same-sex marriage but felt it was a state issue, not a federal one.

Near the end of the debate, moderator James Pindell asked the candidates if they would pledge that, if elected, they would hold a town hall meeting each year in each of the state's 10 counties. Ayotte said yes. Hodes said he held 25 town halls this August - and other forums during the health care debate. But he did not commit to Pindell's pledge.