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Kuster, Negron Clash on Immigration, Abortion, Medicaid Expansion

Allegra Boverman for NHPR
U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster (D) and state Rep. Steve Negron (R) during NHPR's 2nd Congressional District forum Oct. 16.

Congresswoman Annie Kuster, a three-term Democrat, and Republican challenger Steve Negron met for a live debate on NHPR's The Exchange on Tuesday. The two candidates made clear their differences on a number of issues, from climate change to gun control to immigration -- and much more. All Things Considered host Peter Biello asked NHPR report Jason Moon to break down highlights from the hour-long event.

So Jason, before we get into what happened on The Exchange this morning, set the stage of this race for us.

This race is for the 2nd Congressional District -- basically the western half of the state and most of the North Country. Democrat Annie Kuster is seeking reelection to a fourth term in Congress. She’s been challenged by Republican state Rep. Steve Negron of Nashua. Most political watchers would say that the 2nd District is pretty reliably Democratic, so Negron is definitely waging an uphill battle.

Ok, keeping all that in mind, how did these two try to make a difference during their debate on the Exchange?

Well, they both leaned into certain parts of their backgrounds. For Steve Negron, that meant, in-part, highlighting his Hispanic roots. Negron’s grandfather immigrated from Mexico to the U.S. and Negron even gave a portion of his opening statement in Spanish. And that piece of his background was something he leaned during one moment -- a back and forth with Kuster on immigration policy.

Credit Allegra Boverman for NHPR
State Rep. Steve Negron, R-Nashua, discusses immigration during the NHPR event Oct. 16.

NEGRON:  “You know I find it interesting that somebody want to sit on this stage and talk to me, who is 100 percent Hispanic, about what we go through trying to get into this country. And there’s a majority, and I say a majority, of Hispanics out there who say, ‘you know what, I don’t like other Hispanics coming in here illegally, either.’ But nobody wants to talk about that. Look, we’re a land of laws. There’s a right way to do it. We’re not doing it. And we need to get back to it.”

So there you hear a pretty standard GOP position on immigration – that it’s about following the laws on the books, and that that needs to be the starting point of any discussion. But that comes through the lens of Negron’s experience coming from an immigrant family. And I think that’s the connection that the Negron is hoping to make with voters – that he’s lived some of the issues and that’s he’s got more credibility on those issues than someone who has spent the last six years in Congress.

Ok, well let’s talk about his opponent, incumbent Democratic Congresswoman Ann McLane Kuster. Did you get a sense of her strategy going into this debate?

Well, I think Congresswoman Kuster did what a lot of incumbents do when they’re up for reelection – that is to sound like an incumbent, like you’re getting stuff done, that you’re at the center of the action, and that this other person doesn’t really get it. So she spent a lot of time mentioning specific bills she’s worked on and talking about the congressional committees that she sits on.

But what was interesting to me is that she did that in a way that really stressed what she considers her bipartisan credentials. Here’s a little bit of what that sounded like.

Credit Allegra Boverman for NHPR
U.S. Rep. Ann McLane Kuster, a three-term Democrat, responds to a question from Exchange host Laura Knoy.

Kuster: “It’s a very bipartisan district and I’ve tried to work in a bipartisan way, bringing people together -- 105 members of Congress to work on a task force that I created on the opioid epidemic. I’ve worked across the lines on the Veterans Affairs Committee and on the Farm Bill and on the Agriculture Committee, and recently with a brand new task with Republicans and Democrats working together to end sexual violence.”

So there you hear her stressing her experience as a legislator but also her ability to work across the aisle -- which is pretty different from how some other Democrats are running this year, with a more no-holds-barred approach to criticizing the president and Republicans in general.

And this is interesting to me, because as I mentioned earlier, this district is thought of as being a pretty safe bet for Democrats, in a year where the Democrats are feeling pretty good about taking back the House of Representatives.

Ok, so a lot of talk from each candidate about themselves. What did they have to say about each other? Were there any heated exchanges or personal attacks during the debate?

Not really. Overall it was a fairly civil debate. Which I suppose is worth mentioning these days.

I mean, they did get their jabs in but they were mainly about policy. And those policy differences were made really clear on just about any issue you could imagine.

Negron is a strong supporter of the president’s agenda, liked the big tax cuts, wants tough immigration policies, opposes gun control, opposed to abortion, thinks climate change is being blown out of proportion.

Kuster is pretty much the exact opposite on all those. So, if nothing else, voters will have two very clearly distinct visions to choose from when they head to the polls this November.

Listen to the 2nd District forum here or watch it below:

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