Ayotte, Hassan spar over health care reform, special interests in televised debateBy KEVIN LANDRIGAN
New Hampshire Union Leader
October 27. 2016 9:40PM
CONCORD — US Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-NH, and Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan tangled over health care reform and which candidate is more beholden to special interests during the second, televised debate in this tight race Thursday night.
And through all the policy spats, this one-hour debate on NH1 got personal.
Hassan said Ayotte would pull the rug out from under the 50,000 low-income adults who’ve gotten health insurance under a provision of Obamacare that’s set to expire in New Hampshire in 2017 without further action.
“I will fight any attempt to vote to take away Medicaid expansion from 50,000 of our Granite Staters as my opponent has tried to do,” Hassan said.
Ayotte said she voted for a two-year extension of the New Hampshire Health Protection Program to give stakeholders time to craft a state solution while Hassan favors more government control.
“She is going to be following Hillary Clinton’s lead on this; she wants to expand the Affordable Care Act,” Ayotte said.
Hassan said Ayotte is too much of a reliable vote for special interests and that’s why Ayotte opposed allowing Americans to buy cheaper drugs in Canada.
“Senator Ayotte has failed to stand up to Big Pharma over and over again,” Hassan charged.
But Ayotte said it’s Hassan who has had more special-interest money backing her election.
“She is actually raising money from lobbyists for Big Pharma while she is attacking me,” Ayotte said.
The debate reached an emotional boiling point when Hassan responded to a GOP Super Pac ad accusing the governor of lying when she said she knew nothing about a sex abuse scandal at Exeter Academy while her husband, Tom, was its chief executive.
“This is a false and personal attack against my family. The facts are my husband and the administration went right to the police as soon as they received allegations about the professor’s conduct,” Hassan said.
Ayotte said she’s also been the target of tens of millions in negative ads.
“I have been attacked on my character; I have been attacked and had my positions distorted on issues and Governor Hassan has not said anything about it,” Ayotte said.
“She will have to address that ad.”
They bitterly fought over the heroin epidemic with Ayotte accusing Hassan of moving too slowly to get grant money out that lawmakers approved to deal with the crisis.
“Unfortunately, I think there have been some concerns about not fast enough,” Ayotte charged.
Hassan said all the money has already been planned to be spent.
“This is an incredibly misleading attack by Senator Ayotte and Republican allies in this state,” Hassan said.
Ayotte said the first delay for drug money came when Hassan vetoed the state budget last summer.
“When she vetoed the budget, she delayed getting the money out the door by three months,” Ayotte said.
Hassan said it took the Republican-led Legislature seven months to act on her proposals.
They disagreed whether Ayotte voted to cut Pell Grants for middle-class students to attend college.
Hassan and Ayotte meet for their final televised debate on WMUR next Wednesday at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics. The New Hampshire Union Leader is co-sponsoring the weeklong debate series.
Since last October when it began, this U.S. Senate race has been one of the most expensive, competitive and bitter in the entire country.
Earlier this week a national report concluded out-of-state and special-interest money was playing a bigger role in this race than any other with about 95 percent of the campaign cash for and against both of them coming from outside New Hampshire.
Leaders in both national parties say the stakes are high.
New Hampshire has been identified as one of four key states where Democratic wins of GOP seats could lead to a minority party takeover of the U.S. Senate.
Meanwhile, Nov. 8 will deliver victory to one and a painful defeat to the other woman, both of whom are seen as towering political figures on both the state and national stage.
Ayotte, 48, is only just wrapping up her first term but already landed on the short list for vice president of GOP nominee Mitt Romney in 2012.
Hassan, 58, is the only Democratic woman to have won reelection as governor in 2014.
A former, state attorney general, the Nashua resident Ayotte in 2010 became the first Republican woman to win major office in New Hampshire after narrowly winning her GOP primary over Manchester lawyer Ovide Lamontagne.
She buried Democratic Congressman Paul Hodes in that general election, a resurgent, Tea Party-dominant year for the GOP.
With several polls giving Hassan a slight edge, Ayotte’s taken to emphasizing that a President Clinton can’t be given a Democratic Senate.