Ayotte, Hassan clash over money in politics and women’s health care in first debate

  • Senator Kelly Ayotte and Governor Maggie Hassan shake hands before the first TV debate of campaign 2016 at New England College Monday night. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Senator Kelly Ayotte and Governor Maggie Hassan listen to a question during the debate at New England College Monday night. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Gov. Maggie Hassan answers a question as Sen. Kelly Ayotte looks on at a debate at New England College on Monday night. Gov. Maggie Hassan answers a question as Sen. Kelly Ayotte looks on at a debate at New England College on Monday night.

  • Senator Kelly Ayotte and Governor Maggie Hassan at the start of the first TV debate of campaign 2016 at New England College Monday night. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Sen. Kelly Ayotte and Gov. Maggie Hassan at the U.S. Senate debate at New England College on Monday night. The debate covered issues from gun control to health care. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Senator Kelly Ayotte and Governor Maggie Hassan at the debate at New England College Monday night. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

 Monitor staff 
Published: 10/3/2016 11:27:01 PM

In a race expected to set a new record of $100 million in spending, Republican incumbent Sen. Kelly Ayotte and Democratic challenger Gov. Maggie Hassan agreed money in politics should be limited. They disagreed, however, on how to make that happen.

After Hassan criticized Ayotte for supporting the Citizens United decision, the senator fired back, citing Hassan’s refusal to sign the People’s Pledge limiting outside spending earlier this year.

“I didn’t want any of this outside money in this race,” Ayotte said. “I offered the same People’s Pledge that has been in place and worked in other races, and basically, her not taking it is politician speak for, ‘I don’t want this to be in place for this race.’ ”

Earlier this year, Hassan’s campaign argued Ayotte’s proposal would have given the incumbent an advantage and asked her to sign a “strengthened” pledge that would have limited spending even further. The two ultimately could not come to an agreement, and the money poured in.

“I signed a strengthened People’s Pledge because there’s too much money generally in politics and the senator refused to even negotiate about it,” Hassan said, calling Ayotte’s argument an example “of the Washington ‘my way or the highway.’ ”

Ayotte and Hassan have been locked in a close race from the beginning of the campaign season; with little over a month until Election Day, the latest Real Clear Politics polling average shows Ayotte with a slight 1.6 percentage point edge against her opponent.

Throughout Monday night’s debate, co-sponsored by the Monitor and NECN, Hassan’s main line of attack was to paint Ayotte as an arm of corporate special interests including big energy and pharmaceutical companies.

The Republican senator portrayed herself as an independent, bipartisan problem-solver and criticized Hassan, saying she would be a rubber stamp for the policies of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

But when it came to a question about her own tepid support of Republican nominee Donald Trump, Ayotte fumbled.

At first, the senator did not directly answer a question about whether she would tell a child to aspire to be like Trump.

Ayotte said she would tell a child to “be their best” and “seek to run for president, obviously.”

When pressed to answer the question directly, Ayotte eventually said she would.

“I think that certainly there are many role models that we have, and I believe he can serve as president, and so absolutely I would do that,” Ayotte responded.

Following the debate, Ayotte issued a statement saying she “misspoke.”

“While I would hope all of our children would aspire to be president, neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton have set a good example and I wouldn’t hold up either of them as role models for my kids,” she wrote in a press release sent to news media outlets late last night.

During the exchange, she was quick to note her track record of not always agreeing with the Republican nominee.

“I’ve been quite clear about those disagreements, and this is an area where Gov. Hassan has been lockstep with Secretary Clinton,” Ayotte said. “I haven’t heard major disagreements that she’s had with Secretary Clinton.”

Monday’s debate covered many issues, from gun control to health care.

The candidates’ track records on women’s health issues came into the spotlight after Ayotte’s campaign got noticed Monday afternoon for handing out free condoms at the University of New Hampshire.

Ayotte said the condoms were a nod to a bill she has introduced for birth control to be sold over the counter.

“I’ve introduced legislation to expand access to birth control,” Ayotte said. “That’s the point we’re making on college campuses.”

Hassan was quick to point out that Ayotte’s bill would also take away the requirement that insurance companies cover birth control without a co-pay.

“It would make birth control more expensive for women,” Hassan said. “That’s not standing up for women’s health, which is why Planned Parenthood has called it sham legislation.”

Although the two had plenty of disagreements, one thing they did see eye to eye on is wanting to strengthen the vetting process for refugees coming in from Syria and other Middle Eastern countries.

Hassan caused a stir earlier this year when she was the only Democratic governor to call on a temporary pause on Syrian refugees coming into the United States after terrorist attacks in Paris.

Hassan reaffirmed her stance Monday night, saying she disagreed with the Obama administration continuing to let refugees in. So far, six Syrian refugees have been resettled in New Hampshire.

“It’s absolutely critical we make these entry ways and vetting systems stronger,” Hassan said. “We also have to make sure we’re living up to our American values, which is being a welcoming place.”

Ayotte agreed, saying she has been working to strengthen the country’s visa waiver program to try to protect against terrorist groups coming into the United States.

“We need to be clear, no one should come here unless we can guarantee they are not involved with ISIS,” Ayotte said.

(Ella Nilsen can be reached at 369-3322, enilsen@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @ella_nilsen.)




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