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Democrats Face Off In Primary Debate

With just under a week before primary day the Democratic Candidates for Governor met in Goffstown for their first televised debate. But anyone hoping for clear contrasts between the two leading candidates --  former state Senators Maggie Hassan and Jackie Cilley -- were likely disappointed.

In front of the lights at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College, Former State Senators Jackie Cilley and Maggie Hassan, and businessman Bill Kennedy, faced the question that for years has been the litmus test of electability for New Hampshire governors right off the bat.

McElveen: Good evening candidates let’s talk about sales and income taxes.

WMUR’s Josh McElveen jumped into the one issue on which all three candidates have distinct difference of opinion.

Dark-Horse candidate Bill Kennedy said he favors an income tax in New Hampshire in order to reduce the property tax burden around the state

Kennedy: Our property taxes are double the national average, to me I’m incensed by that fact.

Maggie Hassan said while she did not initially take the no income tax pledge, in 2002, she since changed her mind.

Hassan: Since that time I have knocked on thousands and thousands of doors in state senate campaigns, talked with voters, learned from them.

And Jackie Cilley repeated her stance that if new revenue is required she doesn’t want her hands tied by any sort of pledge.

Cilley: I think that everything is on the table

But when asked more pointed questions, the candidates were short on specifics.

Tom Griffith: where do you get the money now to improve education in New Hampshire?
Cilley: As I said at the very beginning we need to look at how we’re resourcing government as it is.

Maggie Hassan’s said funding education is one of her top priorities, though she didn’t offer an more specifics than Cilley.

Hassan: Well the first thing we have to do is focus on growing the economy.

Since the start of her campaign Hassan has been presumed to be the front-runner.

But polling has shown the race to be surprisingly close, so perhaps it’s no surprise that the one jab of the night came from Hassan.

Hassan: We do have a few differences on core democratic values. Jackie and I voted differently on three bills that speak to that difference. The first is a bill that banned predatory lending in the state, pay-day lenders were charging three to five hundred percent on our working families, and Jackie was the only democrat who voted against capping those interest rates. Similarly on the smoking ban, I was very concerned that workers not have to choose between a safe workplace and a job and Jackie was the only democrat who voted against a smoking ban. Similarly about a certain bill about financial penalties for labor violations. So those are some of the differences but again I admire Jackie’s passion and commitment and we want to do many of the same things.
McElveen: Jackie would you like a rebuttal?
Cilley: So I’d like to just say how I differ. We could spend a lot of time looking backwards, I’ve spent all my time on the campaign trail looking forwards.

And she went on to say…

Cilley: I’ve worked on a factory floor I’ve worked on an office floor and I’ve worked in a classroom. My family pays property taxes we know the burden of our citizens when we pay that. We pay business profits tax, business enterprise tax, and I’m the only one in this race with legitimate business experience.

Throughout the campaign, Hassan has spent more than three times as much money as Cilley.

And still the race appears to be tight.

But if Hassan is worried, she isn’t letting on.

Hassan: I assume every election is a really close election, I never take anything for granted, again you work as hard as you can to communicate with voters, and help them understand why you think you’re the best candidate. And I’ve been really pleased with the response we’ve been getting.

In just under a week, an estimated 66,000 Democratic voters will head to the polls and Hassan, Cilley and Kennedy will find out exactly where they stand with their electorate.

Sam Evans-Brown has been working for New Hampshire Public Radio since 2010, when he began as a freelancer. He shifted gears in 2016 and began producing Outside/In, a podcast and radio show about “the natural world and how we use it.” His work has won him several awards, including two regional Edward R. Murrow awards, one national Murrow, and the Overseas Press Club of America's award for best environmental reporting in any medium. He studied Politics and Spanish at Bates College, and before reporting was variously employed as a Spanish teacher, farmer, bicycle mechanic, ski coach, research assistant, a wilderness trip leader and a technical supporter.

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