Kelly Ayotte and Maggie Hassan shared a stage last night at New England College. Broadcast on NECN, it was the first televised debate in their race for US Senate. And it showed that despite this race’s high-profile – it’s one of a handful that could decide control of the Senate -- it remains in the shadow of the battle for the White House.
The presidential race wasn’t the first focus of this debate, or the main focus. But when Kelly Ayotte was asked if she would tell children “to be like Donald Trump,” Trump, and Ayotte’s calibrated -- support but not endorse --stance towards the New York businessman, was again in the spotlight.
“Well, certainly, there are many role models that we have. And I believe he can serve as President, and, so absolutely, I would do that.”
-If you believe he can serve as president then why won’t you endorse him?
“Because I’ve has some disagreements with him and I’ve been quite clear about those disagreements.”
Ayotte then accused Hassan of being less independent towards to that other polarizing figure, who tops the democratic ticket.
“And this is an area where Governor Hassan has been lockstep with Secretary Clinton. I haven’t heard major disagreements that she’s had with Secretary Clinton. So who is going to stand up on behalf of the people of New Hampshire”
--Governor Hassan you have 30 seconds
“Thanks you because of course what you just heard is Senator Ayotte trying to distance herself from Donald Trump, which she does from time to time, but at the end of the day she is still saying that she is going to vote to put Donald Trump in the situation room with access to our nuclear codes, that she is going to vote to make him leader of our country and somebody who our children are going to be exposed to as President of the United States.
But it was Ayotte’s comment on Donald Trump that stuck. And after it went viral on social media, Ayotte issued a statement saying she misspoke, and that neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton are role models for children. That walkback may limit the fallout of her original comment. But it also guaranteed it would be the story of a debate, which saw the candidates split on many core issues. On guns, for instance, Hassan called for universal background checks; Ayotte called for better enforcement of current law. On Abortion, Hassan said she’d consider voting to lift the ban on funding abortions with tax dollars, Ayotte wouldn’t. And repeatedly, Hassan tried to push the case that on issues large and small Ayotte’ stances tend to follow the money.
“She has had a record of standing with the corporate special interests that do get benefits, whether it’s big oil, whether it’s Wall Street, whether its big pharma, who are major contributors to her campaign. She is standing with them as she stands with Donald Trump ”
Ayotte, meanwhile, derided Hassan’s campaign as one driven mostly by talking points, straight out of Washington.
“So they’re have been many whoppers told, but that’s why I’m out there trying to run a positive campaign about what I want to get done for the people of New Hampshire and what we can do together.”
But right now Ayotte needs to figure out how best to be together, on the ballot, with Donald Trump. If last night’s debate is anything to go by, that remains a work in progress.