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August 24. 2014 7:26PM

Senate Republican hopefuls square off again

EXETER — The pulse of the U.S. Senate Republican primary is quickening, but the front-runner sounded like he's focusing on the general election.

“We need to unite,” Scott Brown said during a debate Saturday, and “make Harry Reid the Minority Leader.”

Brown, the former Massachusetts senator eager to challenge U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) on Nov. 4, is in a statistical dead heat with the incumbent according to a poll by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center.

He is also fresh from another debate with two Republicans looking to pull off an upset of their own. Brown sat between Jim Rubens and Bob Smith on the stage at the historic Exeter Town Hall.

Smith, a former U.S. senator who has criticized Brown as “Shaheen light,” stuck to his campaign issues during the debate. Rubens, however, tried to show a stark contrast between his rivals.

“Both my opponents voted for the Patriot Act,” he said.

The candidates said they supported repealing the Affordable Care Act, strengthening border security and protecting constitutional rights in connection with spying by the National Security Agency.

Rubens acknowledged climate change, while Brown and Smith said “no” when asked if science has proven climate change is occurring.

Brown and Smith said the Department of Veterans Affairs should be privatized; Rubens disagreed.

The VA scandal, which involved delayed care and cover-up, was cited as an example of government bureaucracy run amok.

Brown referenced it when describing the Affordable Care Act. “Obamacare,” he said, “is the VA in a couple of years.”

Brown and Smith said they support abolishing the Internal Revenue Service. Rubens said it cannot be done.

Rubens, a businessman and former state senator from Hanover, said he supports term limits, greater disclosure laws and campaign finance reform. He said special interests have poisoned the political well.

“It's a corrupt political system we've got,” he said.

The debate was sponsored by the Exeter Republican Town Committee, the Rockingham County Republican Committee and the Seacoast Republican Women.

dtuohy@newstote.com


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