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In GOP Senate Primary Debate, Ayotte Looks Past Rubens to Focus on Hassan


Republican incumbent Senator Kelly Ayotte and primary challenger Jim Rubens faced off in a debate on WMUR TV last night.

From the very outset of the debate, a clear dynamic emerged between Ayotte and Rubens.

Asked about their confidence in Donald Trump, Ayotte offered this tempered sentiment.

“Well I’ve said that I’ll be voting for the Republican nominee and I’ve had some disagreements with him.”

Then Rubens responded.

“You can’t be on both sides of this issue. You either – I’m voting for Donald Trump and I’ve endorsed him and anything less than that is simply support for Hillary Clinton.”

It was a tack the former state senator would take all night. He repeatedly accused Ayotte of breaking promises to conservative voters after drinking what he called the ‘Washington Kool-Aid.’ Rubens cast himself as the more ideologically pure conservative on immigration, fiscal matters -- even on filling the current vacancy on the Supreme Court, which Ayotte believes should wait until voters have picked a new president.

“The reason Mitch McConnell did not want to have a hearing is expressly because of weak-kneed Republicans like my opponent, who said she would have voted for Sonya Sotomayor for Supreme Court.”

Ayotte meanwhile, saved most of her attacks for Democratic governor Maggie Hassan, who will face the winner of this primary.

“And this is also another area --Governor Maggie Hassan has not  talked about this hostage payment and I think this is something that’s really important in terms of our national security, it’s why I’ve been such an opponent of the Iran deal.”

Ayotte repeatedly emphasized bipartisanship, something she didn’t stress as much when she won election to the Senate during the GOP wave of 2010. And for most her time in Washington, Ayotte has been a reliable vote for the priorities of GOP Senate leaders. When asked if her fresh focus on bipartisanship amounted to election-year politics, Ayotte was quick to recount her pedigree as a prosecutor, the job she had before she went to Washington.

“Let me go back to my time as Attorney General -- first appointed by a Republican governor, twice reappointed by a Democratic governor. And I worked across the aisle then on getting things done to keep the people of New Hampshire safe.”

Ayotte and Rubens differed on several core issues surrounding public safety, including on allowing refugees into the country. Rubens says he favors the approach outlined by Donald Trump: barring the entry of anyone coming from countries quote – ‘known to harbor terrorists.’ Ayotte, however, favored a more tailored approach; with a bottom line goal of ensuring refugees have no ties to ISIS.

“But I also have to say with Mr. Rubens’ position, what about those who have worked as translators for our men and women in uniform in Afghanistan? I think you have to look at each individual and guarantee each individual, but we also know there are some brave people who have done a lot for our military.”

Still, in this primary debate there were moments of agreement – that the Iranian nuclear deal was a mistake, that the federal death penalty should remain on the books, and that transgender bathrooms in public schools should remain a local decision.

Local Republicans will make their decision on Ayotte and Rubens Tuesday.

Jason Moon is a senior reporter and producer on the Document team. He has created longform narrative podcast series on topics ranging from unsolved murders, to presidential elections, to secret lists of police officers.
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