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Hassan enters race for Senate

Staff Report
October 05. 2015 8:43PM
Gov. Maggie Hassan speaks during the Rising Stars Awards ceremony hosted at Space Entertainment Center in Hooksett Monday evening. (Mark Bolton/Union Leader)

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Two-term Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan announced she is challenging Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte for U.S. Senate, a battle that has implications up and down the ballot in 2016.

Hassan, in a video announcement and an interview Monday, spoke of expanding opportunities for the middle class, creating jobs, strengthening national security and defeating Islamic State terrorists.

“We balanced the budget and created a business friendly environment that has New Hampshire’s unemployment rate at the lowest sine 2008,” Hassan said in the video. “Now, to continue working to realize our state’s full potential, we need a response from Washington that meets the progress we’re making here at home.”

The progress she referred to included her support for expansion of Medicaid, under the Affordable Care Act, to more than 40,000 Granite Staters.

Hassan said special interests and lobbyists in Washington have rigged the system for themselves at the expense of the middle class.

Moments after the announcement, Ayotte said she was running for reelection to continue her work in Washington.

“I welcome Governor Hassan to this race and look forward to a very spirited campaign. We have lots to talk about, including confronting the challenges facing our state and how we can best deliver results for New Hampshire families,” Ayotte said in a statement.

In the interview, Hassan said government’s first job is to keep its citizens safe and maintain national security, and that that would be her first priority if elected to the U.S. Senate.

Hassan was asked in the interview to weigh in on a few national and international issues:

• On the ongoing turmoil in Syria, she said the U.S. should accept some Syrian refugees, with proper screening, to work with allies to address a humanitarian crisis. “I think it’s really important to have robust screening,” she said.

• Hassan supports the Iran deal. “While imperfect, it’s the best available option to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon,” she said. “But it is only the first step.” She said the U.S. must work with allies to enforce the agreement, including improving intelligence to ensure that Iran is complying with it.

• Hassan said she would consider closing the Guantanamo Bay military prison, but only in a context that ensures the protection of U.S. citizens.

• On gun control, following the shooting at a community college in Oregon last week, she said she supports Second Amendment rights, and supports balance in the name of public safety, such as background checks for firearms purchases.

• She supports the U.S. re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba, saying that it is important for America to foster relationships around the world, in part, to strengthen U.S. security and protect U.S. interests.

In speaking about the war on terrorism, and specifically the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, Hassan noted the deaths of James Foley and Steven Sotloff, two journalists with New Hampshire ties who were murdered in 2014.

“We have to wipe out ISIS wherever it is,” she said.

Hassan, 57, lives in Newfields with her husband Tom, a former principal of Phillips Exeter Academy. They have two adult children. A former practicing attorney, Hassan served in the New Hampshire state Senate before she was governor.

Ayotte, 47, who has two children with her husband Joe Daley, lives in Nashua. She is a former New Hampshire attorney general who was first elected in 2010.

Hassan, asked to name an area or issue on which she disagreed with President Obama, said she is opposed to an Internet sales tax. As governor, she pledged to veto a state income or sales tax. As a state senator, she noted that she sponsored legislation to protect New Hampshire businesses from Internet sales taxes.

The state Republican Party immediately criticized Hassan.

“She has failed to keep and grow jobs in New Hampshire, she has failed to respond adequately to the heroin epidemic and she has failed to work across party lines to do what’s right for Granite Staters,” a GOP spokesman said in a statement. “Her irresponsible and partisan budget veto left vital programs and resources in limbo, including funding to fight the heroin epidemic and critical support for the elderly and homebound.”

Ray Buckley, chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, accused Ayotte of being a “special interest favorite,” and supportive of tax breaks for oil companies.

Hassan, in the interview, said she was disappointed in Ayotte for opposing funding for Planned Parenthood.

Hassan’s announcement has implications for New Hampshire as a battleground state in 2016. Hassan has endorsed Democrat Hillary Clinton.

“It does help that she’s on the ticket,” former U.S. Amb. Terry Shumaker, a longtime Clinton supporter, said of Hassan running for Senate.

Hassan’s move gives the New Hampshire governor’s race a jolt. Executive Councilor Chris Sununu, R-Newfields, is running for the GOP nomination, as is State Rep. Frank Edelblut of Wilton.

Democrats considering a run include Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern of Concord and Portsmouth City Councilor Stefany Shaheen, the eldest daughter of Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH. State Sen. Andrew Hosmer, D-Laconia, said he also continues to mull a potential run for governor.

Both Van Ostern and Shaheen said they would announce a decision soon.

Ayotte’s campaign was quick with an email blast asking Republicans to donate to her, as did the state GOP, and Hassan.

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