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July 11. 2012 9:19PM

Lamontagne, Smith keep it civil at gubernatorial debate


Republican gubernatorial candidates Kevin Smith, left, and Ovide Lamontagne, greet each other before the start of a debate sponsored by the Granite State Institute of Politics at The Radisson Hotel in Manchester Wednesday evening. (Mark Bolton/Union Leader)

MANCHESTER — The two candidates running for the Republican gubernatorial nomination squared off in a debate Wednesday night, fielding questions on a range of topics from federal health care to attracting business to the Granite State.

Kevin Smith and Ovide Lamontagne were civil even when noting their differences in the 90-minute debate, which almost doubled as a Republican party rally. Members of the audience received orange fans supplied by the NRA Political Victory Fund and waved wildly with the message “Defeat Obama” written in big, bold type.

Smith and Lamontagne also rallied the crowd with negative comments about the Democratic candidates also running to succeed Gov. John Lynch, who is not seeking reelection.

“We need proven, tested, experienced leaders to assume responsibility here in New Hampshire and I'm ready to do that,” said Lamontagne, who touted his experience as a lawyer with a prominent Manchester law firm and time as chairman of the State Board of Education.

Smith, who served as an aide to former Gov. Craig Benson and as an official in the state office of Health and Human Services, also stood by his experience and qualifications he has achieved at an early age. Smith won't turn 35 until the end of the month.

“I don't think age is going to be an issue in this race,” Smith said after the debate.

Smith was critical of Lamontagne's plans to lower business taxes, saying his opponent was not aggressive enough to attract business to the state.

“We have to become a more business-friendly environment,” Smith said. “I believe it's not state government that creates jobs, but it's state government that creates the environment that the spirit of new jobs is being created.”

Lamontagne noted he is well-known throughout the state and can turn around the economy.

“I have credibility. I have been a business advocate. A business owner and I know business in this state,” he said. “I won't be simply spokesman in chief. I'm going to be ambassador in chief.”

Lamontagne remarked a few times that his opponent may have strayed from the original questions, but that was as close as any hostility in the event.

Both candidates noted it will be necessary to work with other political parties, but for Wednesday the atmosphere was very pro-GOP.

“I have shown I can work with people who don't necessarily agree with me. I'll be able to work with Democrats, Libertarians and vegetarians,” Lamontagne said, drawing laughs. “If you think you can help New Hampshire move in the right direction, which is toward prosperity then work with me and I'll work with you. That's the message that we need to send.

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Doug Alden may be reached at dalden@unionleader.com.


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