Sitting on stage side-by-side and rarely addressing each other directly during the hour-long forum in Manchester, the differences between Senator Kelly Ayotte and Governor Maggie Hassan were clear.
Take the first question on how to rein in health care costs. New data shows premiums under so-called Obamacare rising sharply in most states next year. Governor Hassan, who led the effort to expand Medicaid in New Hampshire, saying she wants to fix the law, rather than start over.
“We have to repeal the medical device tax, we have to repeal the Cadillac Tax, we have to work to get generic drugs to market more quickly and we have to focus on improving quality over quantity in our healthcare system,” said Hassan.
Senator Ayotte countered that a top-down plan from Washington doesn’t work, and selling health insurance across state lines would encourage more competition and lower costs.
“But too many New Hampshire families are struggling with higher deductibles, higher co-pays, higher premiums, less choice,” said Ayotte.
On raising the minimum wage, Ayotte said she would need to see clear evidence that a hike would help workers more than harm them.
”If you look at minimum wage, which I’m open to raising, that you don’t lose jobs,” she said. “And the last proposal we had before the Congress, the economic analysis is that we lose a half million to a million jobs.”
Hassan says that at the current federal rate of $7.25 an hour, someone working full time can still find themselves living in poverty.
“I support phasing in a minimum wage up to $12 an hour, working with business over time so that our working families have more money in their pockets to spend on consumer goods that our businesses sell.”
Along with economic issues, the candidates also briefly touched on the names at the top of the ticket. While discussing cyber security, Hassan sought to tie her opponent to Donald Trump, who at a previous debate Ayotte called a role model. She quickly rescinded that comment and says she no longer supports the GOP nominee.
“It does concern me that Senator Ayotte supported Donald Trump who repeatedly invited attacks against our electoral system and against our candidate,” said Hassan.
When asked about reported hacks by Russia into the email accounts of the Clinton campaign, Ayotte criticized the action. But she says leaked documents do bring up important issues, such as the Democratic nominee’s statements during paid speeches.
“It is of concern what is out there where you have Secretary Clinton talking about having a different position publicly versus privately,” said Ayotte. “And I think when it comes to people who represent us, the position should be the same, whether it is public or private.”
Closer to home, the candidates sought to talk up their efforts to confront the opioid epidemic, and their work to improve infrastructure around the Granite State.
Throughout the hour, the candidates were mostly cordial. They reminisced about their first jobs, both of which happened to be on assembly lines manufacturing cardboard boxes. And they highlighted the significance of having two women on the ballot.
“You know, we have a long history of women in leadership,” said Ayotte. “So for me, it’s just, we’ve got two candidates running hard for this race, and talking about what their vision is for the people of New Hampshire and how they are going to represent them, and that’s really what it should be about.”
Recent polls show Maggie Hassan with a slight lead in a race that could determine which party controls the Senate.
The economic forum was held at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics on the campus of Saint Anselm College. The event was sponsored by NHPR, the New Hampshire Business Review and the Business and Industry Association.