Tone sharpens in latest Senate debate between Ayotte, Hassan

Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, left, listens as incumbent Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte speaks during a forum with business leaders Tuesday in Manchester, New Hampshire. Jim Cole / AP

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) โ€” The topics were the same but the tone was sharper as New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte and her challenger, Gov. Maggie Hassan, faced each other Thursday for another debate.

During the one-hour televised debate, Ayotte, a Republican, and Hassan, a Democrat, each accused the other of being beholden to special interests, with Hassan saying Ayotte caters to the oil and pharmaceutical industries and Ayotte contending Hassan was recruited in the race by Democratic leaders in Washington to be a rubber stamp for presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

“Gov. Hassan talks about special interests โ€” it’s her favorite talking point โ€” but just look at your television. You see the special interests. She was recruited in this race by the power brokers in Washington,” Ayotte said. “I’m going to stand up for you, and that’s what I’m always going to do. … I have one of the most bipartisan records in the Senate and I work to find common ground.”


Ayotte again called Hassan a hypocrite for taking credit for the last state budget after initially vetoing it. She said that Hassan’s actions delayed funding aimed at addressing the state’s heroin crisis and helping those struggling with mental illness.

But Hassan said Ayotte was a hypocrite given that she voted to end Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, which covers substance abuse and mental health treatment. Ayotte has voted repeatedly to end the expansion, though she supports doing so over a two-year period.

“She’s now using kind of Washington-speak to tell you that because she’s willing to give you one more year on Medicaid expansion and then pull the rug out from under you, that’s somehow a good thing,” Hassan said. “So for her to talk about being concerned about funding for behavioral health and substance abuse when she’s willing to take away that treatment for 50,000 hard-working Granite-Staters โ€” medical care and that treatment โ€” is concerning.”

Hassan also hit back on Ayotte’s claim to be bipartisan.

“She voted five times with Ted Cruz to shut down the government and then when she realized it was hurting New Hampshire and she was getting political heat for it, then she finally decided to pretend to be part of the solution. She voted to defund Planned Parenthood six times, she’s standing right with (Kentucky Sen.) Mitch McConnell on the Supreme Court blockade,” she said. “There’s nothing bipartisan there.”


When asked about college affordability, Hassan said Ayotte backed cuts to federal Pell grants.

“That’s her record. Just like she’s trying to run away from Donald Trump sometimes, the theme of this campaign for her is running away from her real record,” she said.

Ayotte countered that Hassan must not have read what she actually voted for.

“I voted to make sure there were no cuts to Pell grants but that we actually look at what’s being spent every year,” she said. “This is a false attack from Gov. Hassan.”

The debate was broadcast on NH-1 News, which worked with the Open Debate Coalition, a group that crowd-sourced some of the questions posed to the candidates.