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0000017a-15d9-d736-a57f-17ff8f680000Coverage of the 2016 races in New Hampshire, from the White House to the State House.

Opioids, Climate Change, Trump: GOP Candidates Face Core Party Issues at Debate

The major candidates for governor met in a debate Tuesday night on WMUR, giving the hopefuls the chance to press their cases to a statewide TV audience.

The Republicans sought traction on issues of core importance to GOP voters.

The hour long debate followed a basic dynamic: Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas worked to shrink the night to a head-to-head match up with Executive Councilor Chris Sununu. Here’s Gatsas going after Sununu on refugee resettlement.

“The perception is you stand up and you say you were against immigration. However, the reality is when I went up to the governor’s council and you were there and I asked for a moratorium on refugees, you voted against it. That’s perception and reality.”

Senator Jeannie Forrester set her sights on Gatsas, challenging him pointedly, while defending her own proposal to deploy the National Guard to battle opioids.

“Quite honestly, I’m surprised that you would not want to use all the tools available as governor to make sure we end this crisis,” Forrester said.

"Take 30 seconds, mayor," said WMUR's moderator, Josh McElveen, setting up this exchange:

Gatsas: “Well thank you very much. We’ve used every tool in the toolbox here in Manchester...”

Forrester: “I don’t think so...”

Gatsas:“And I think, Senator, when you talk about what we are going to do...”

Forrester: “What are you going to do?”

Gatsas:“Senator, I know that you are much more respectful than that.”

State Representative Frank Edelblut, meanwhile, cast himself as a conservative outsider, thin of political resume, perhaps, but free of the baggage that comes with a thick one.

“I have not planned my career saying I’m going to go from one position to another position, and eventually I will achieve the position of governor. I’m going to tell you that running for governor was not on my bucket list of things to do.”

Chris Sununu, for his part, strove at every turn worked to come across as upbeat -

“New Hampshire is a great state, a great state.”

- and reliable on core GOP issues like taxes, guns and education reform. But last night Sununu also worked delicately to sell his record to the conservative electorate that he need to court in the primary and the more moderate one he’ll face in the general should he succeed.

Case in point was Planned Parenthood.

Sununu has voted for and against state contracts with Planned Parenthood as an Executive Councilor. And his vote this spring to back a contract with Planned Parenthood enraged some conservatives.

Last night Sununu pled with GOP voters to see it his way.

"And please keep in mind this contract has been around for 40 years," Sununu said. "Every conservative governor before me has signed this exact contract because they knew, as much as they might disagree with Planned Parenthood it’s about putting people over politics. It’s about quality healthcare services for women.

But overall this debate showed the Republicans mostly agreeing. All said they endorse Donald Trump; all oppose re-establishing a state minimum wage. All said they doubted humans play a role in climate change. And, predictably, all also pitched themselves as the best person to lead the state.

Primary Voters now have less than a week to make up their minds.

Josh has worked at NHPR since 2000.

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