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Terror threats, gun rights, and immigration at the fore of Senate debate

MANCHESTER — The threat posed by the militant terrorist organization ISIS, the Second Amendment and illegal immigration were among the issues that took center state at Thursday night's debate among Republican hopefuls for the U.S. Senate seat held by Democratic U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.

"They've actually morphed into being bigger and badder," former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown said. "Their goal is to march to Pennsylvania Avenue and plant a flag on the White House. Our goal is to stop them from doing that."

"We don't know, in this part of the world, who our friends are and who our enemies are," said former state Sen. Jim Rubens. "I do not want our troops involved in a third ground war in Iraq."

Rubens does not support the current air strikes against ISIS, saying other countries in the region should be responsible.

"Our pants are down and we are weak in the region," Rubens said.

Former U.S. Sen. Bob Smith called the region "a mess" that has seen fighting among various factions "since Mohammed." He said the U.S. shouldn't be involved in the region unless the U.S. is directly threatened.

Brown, though, said ISIS already is a "direct threat."

"The President right now, supported by Senator Shaheen ... is clueless on" how to handle ISIS, Brown said.

Thursday's debate at WMUR-TV's studio was the third of four Republican primary debates, cosponsored by the New Hampshire Union Leader, held this week in the lead-up to Tuesday's House, Senate and gubernatorial primary elections. Reporter Michael Cousineau represented the Union Leader on the debate panel.

Smith and Rubens each criticized Brown, who when asked about his past support of an assault weapons ban, said he is not planning to introduce any new gun legislation if elected but, if it came up, would ensure that people "from all sides on the issue" would be involved.

"There he goes again. Answer the question, would you?" Smith asked Brown. "Take a stand. If he's against guns, then he's against guns. Good for him."

"You cannot slither around the Second Amendment," Rubens said. "It is absolute and there can be no compromise."

The candidates gave varying answers as to whether humans are primarily responsible for climate change, with Rubens saying yes, and Brown and Smith saying no.

"Yes (humans) are," Rubens said. "Facts can be a stubborn thing."

"I do not believe that humans are the cause of global warming at all," Smith said. "I believe there are holes shot in the science."

Brown said he would support the Keystone pipeline proposal and criticized Shaheen for not supporting it, saying America should use its natural resources to become energy-independent.

The candidates also gave varying answers to which country should be regarded as the United States' most significant foreign policy foe.

Smith said any nation, naming Syria and Iraq, harboring terrorists should be considered an enemy.

Brown echoed Romney in calling Russia "our biggest geopolitical threat" and called Iran, North Korea and areas controlled by ISIS significant enemies as well.

Rubens named China and Saudi Arabia.

"They're ahead of us in cyberwars and they're crippling us with cyber terrorism," he said. "Saudi Arabia ... it turns out is the single largest funder of global terror and ISIS."

Smith called Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell "part of the problem" and said he would vote to replace him as the party's Senate leader.

Throughout the debate, Brown did not address his Republican rivals' positions and instead focused his criticism for Shaheen, even when the candidates were asked why they would be the best Republican candidate.

"Any one of us would make a better senator than Jeanne Shaheen," Brown said.

That said, when the candidates were asked who among Democrats they admire, Brown named his potential opponent, should he win the primary.

"I admire Senator Shaheen. I don't agree with her, but I certainly respect her," Brown said.

After the debate, Brown said he wasn't looking past Tuesday's primary despite attacks against Shaheen.

"It's bad karma to do that," Brown said.

The candidates also each said they disagreed with legislation supported by Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte that provides a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

"It does amount to amnesty," Rubens said. "We need to secure the border."

"Of course, it's amnesty," Smith said. "These people need to be stopped and sent back. I don't want to hear about these bills and gobbledygook. I want these illegal aliens, not immigrants, aliens, rounded up and sent back."

The candidates differed on abortion, with Smith saying he is absolutely against it, Rubens saying he is personally opposed but recognizes the political reality on the issue and Brown saying he supports a woman's right to choose.

"I proudly support innocent life," Smith said.

"I am not proposing we change Roe versus Wade," Rubens said.

"There are good people on both sides of this very sensitive issue," Brown said. While he said he does not support partial-birth abortion, "I believe that decision (about abortion) is best made between a woman and her doctor."

Smith and Rubens each criticized Brown for voting on legislation supported by President Barack Obama, with each saying New Hampshire needs a conservative voice. Brown, though, said New Hampshire needs a senator who can reach across the aisle to get things done.

"We need to find a way, in a bipartisan, bicameral manner, to come up with ways to solve problems that (President Barack Obama) will sign," Brown said.

Tuesday's primary

At the end of the debate, Brown and Rubens said they would support whomever wins the primary, while Smith said he would wait until after the election to make that decision.

After the debate, Brown said he hopes to gain Smith's support during the general election campaign.

"I think it's so important to get Bob's help. I think it would be difficult to win without him," Brown said.

Smith said after the debate that polls showing him trailing were wrong; he predicted he would win Tuesday.

"You're all going to have egg on your faces Tuesday night and I'm going to enjoy it," Smith said, laughing.

He ruled out launching a write-in campaign for the general election should he lose the primary.

Rubens said the state is home to sophisticated voters who often research candidates' stands on the issues.

"I think this primary come next Tuesday is going to shock and surprise people all over the state," Rubens said.

tbuckland@unionleader.com


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