When Republican candidates for U.S. Senate Jim Rubens and Bob Smith debated at the Bedford Public Library in April, they differed on some issues but were unanimous in their criticism of their opponent, former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, who was not present.
Brown can expect more of the same on Wednesday night, when the Merrimack Business Association hosts a debate among senatorial candidates, again without the front-runner.
The scenario could repeat itself in July when radio station WGIR in Manchester hosts its GOP primary debates, and again in August, when the Exeter Republican Town Committee, the Rockingham County Republican Committee and the Seacoast Republican Women host a Republican candidates debate.
An organizer of the Exeter event said that as of Thursday, all of the Republican congressional candidates, the two gubernatorial candidates, Rubens and Smith had accepted the invitation — everyone but Scott Brown.
“We’ve received the invitations and are reviewing them at this time,” said Brown’s communications director, Elizabeth Guyton, who confirmed that Brown will attend a candidate forum hosted by WMUR on June 20, and the WMUR/Union Leader GOP Primary Debate on Sept. 4 hosted in cooperation with the Institute of Politics at St. Anselm College.
The Nashua Area Federation of Republican Women had hoped to host a debate on June 23, but according to organizer Lenette Peterson, a state representative from Merrimack, the event had to be cancelled after Brown declined to attend.
“Unfortunately only three of the four candidates would commit and because the fourth one wouldn’t, ticket sales weren’t going anywhere,” she said. “No one wants to hear three-quarters of the slate.”
A fourth candidate, Karen Testerman, dropped out of the race Friday.Peterson said notices went out to all the campaigns in March.
“Three said ‘yes’ right away,” she said. “The fourth dragged his feet, wouldn’t get back and all of the sudden they said, ‘Oh, we’re booked.’”
A stark contrastThe fact that all the candidates in the GOP primary for U.S. Senate have yet to appear on the same stage together stands in stark contrast to the last time New Hampshire had a contested Senate primary.
By this time in 2010, candidates Kelly Ayotte, Bill Binnie, Ovide Lamontagne and Jim Bender had debated six times, with six more to go before the primary vote.
“He’s playing it as if he has already won,” said David McCray, chairman of the Merrimack Business Association and a former Merrimack town councilor, of Brown’s absence from the debate schedule so far.
McCray said he sent Brown a link to the reports on Virginia Congressman Eric Cantor, the second-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives, whose defeat at the hands of an upstart candidate rocked the GOP last week. “I would like to reiterate that the invitation for Senator Brown to attend the June 18th Senate Republican Candidates Forum in Merrimack continues to be extended,” he wrote in the email.
McCray is angry at the way his business group was treated by the Brown campaign. An invitation to the June 18 Merrimack event went out to the candidates by registered mail on April 23. In early May, McCray learned that Brown would not be attending, not from Brown’s campaign but from a Union Leader reporter.
McCray offered Brown the opportunity to meet with the business association at a later date, but rescinded that offer when he learned that Brown had attempted unsuccessfully to schedule an editorial board meeting with the Nashua Telegraph on June 18.
As of Thursday, Guyton could not say what Brown would be doing on June 18, but continued to allude to an unspecified “previously scheduled event.”McCray said the invitation for Brown to attend the June 18 is still open.
“We will have a seat on the podium for him if he is able to make it,” he said.
Will that empty seat still be there if Brown is not?
“That’s not our game,” said McCray. “That’s grandstanding and taking away from the other candidates. But we’re not going to give him protected status if people want to make comments about him. Just because you decide not to show up doesn’t make you a sacred cow.”
The winner of the Sept. 9 primary will face Democrat Jeanne Shaheen.