Smith, Rubens go after Brown in GOP U.S. Senate debate

Last modified: 9/5/2014 11:57:35 PM
Jim Rubens and Bob Smith repeatedly put Scott Brown on defense during a debate last night, attacking him for flip-flopping on issues and saying he lacks Republican principles on everything from the Second Amendment to health care.

“Mr. Brown, tear up those talking points. For heaven’s sake, you vote with President Obama more than you vote with the Republican Party,” Smith said after Brown said he doesn’t regret any of the votes he took as a Massachusetts U.S. senator.

The debate, aired on WMUR, was Rubens’s and Smith’s last chance to take the wind out of Brown’s sails heading into Tuesday’s Republican primary. The winner of that race will take on incumbent U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. Brown, for his part, kept most of his talking points centered on Shaheen. Alongside guns, health care and Brown’s voting record, immigration and foreign policy were top issues in the hourlong debate.

On guns, Brown did not give a clear answer to whether he would support a federal assault weapons ban, even when asked a second time, giving Rubens and Smith an opening to attack him.

“He’s not pro-gun and you get all of this gobblydegook; this is what we don’t need in politics these days,” Smith said. “Take a stand.”

“You cannot slither around the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, it is not to be compromised with,” Rubens said.

Brown said he is a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, but gun groups across the state have been opposed to his candidacy from the beginning. In 2013, he said he would back a federal assault weapons ban and opposed so-called reciprocity laws that would make a concealed carry permit in New Hampshire valid in Massachusetts.

Smith and Rubens also cast themselves as conservative alternatives to Brown, who they say voted too often with President Obama. Smith said the way to save the country is by never compromising. In response, Brown pointed to several bills he championed that passed with bipartisan support, including an insider trading bill.

On climate change, Rubens criticized Brown of “flip-flopping” on whether he believes it is caused by humans. Rubens, breaking with the party mold, strongly believes climate change is man-made. Brown has said he thinks it is partially caused by humans, but said “no” when asked in a recently whether he thought climate change was scientifically proven.

“Scott, you’ve been all over the map on this issue,” Rubens said. “This is emblematic of the way you address issues, and you can’t do that. The people want to know where candidates stand on issues.”

On foreign policy, both Smith and Rubens said the U.S. should not use ground troops to fight the Islamic State militant group. Brown, however, said every option should remain on the table. Beyond ground troops, Rubens said the U.S. shouldn’t even be using airstrikes against the Islamic State but should improve ground intelligence and work with regional powers such as Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia to dismantle the group.

U.S. citizens fighting alongside the Islamic State should have their citizenship revoked, Smith and Brown said.

“Rhetoric at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard isn’t going to cut it,” Brown said, referring to Vice President Joe Biden’s comments this week that the U.S. will follow the Islamic State to the “gates of hell.” The Islamic State is “laughing at us and we need to do something and that would be a great first start,” he added.

Rubens took it further, saying Americans fighting with Islamic State should be tried for treason and put to death.

On immigration, all three candidates said they do not favor amnesty and that people living in the U.S. illegally should be sent back to their home countries. When asked whether he disagreed with U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a Republican, on anything, Brown said he wouldn’t have supported the comprehensive immigration reform bill that she backed last summer.

Smith offered the most fiery rhetoric on the topic, insisting on calling undocumented immigrants “aliens” and saying he does not need to read any bills related to immigration.

“Round them up and send them home,” he said.

On social issues, only Smith took a strong stand against abortion rights. Rubens and Brown both said Roe v. Wade is the law and they would not work to change it, although Brown said he favors parental notification laws and wants to do more to promote adoption.

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or or on Twitter @kronayne.)

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