Van Ostern, Sununu tangle over issues, backgrounds in debateBy KEVIN LANDRIGAN
New Hampshire Union Leader
October 26. 2016 10:22PM
CONCORD — The two executive councilors battling to become the next governor went right after one another over their resumes and their differing views on key issues during a debate Wednesday night.
Republican nominee Chris Sununu of Newfields defended his stewardship of the Waterville Valley ski resort amidst attacks from Democrats that the attraction has slumped under his control.
“I have created hundreds of jobs. Waterville’s success is undeniable. We are the only ski resort on the East Coast that is expanding,” Sununu said during the two candidates first, televised debate on NH1.
Democrat Colin Van Ostern of Concord said Sununu can’t conceal that ski visits and revenue has plummeted since Sununu became general manager six years ago.
“Since then, they have lost market share and cut jobs, not created them,” Van Ostern said.
Then Sununu mocked Van Ostern’s claim of having a successful, private business career and alluded to him working for Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards who slumped in his second run in 2008 after a sex scandal.
“When you were working for John Edwards, how do you explain to the women of New Hampshire being a spokesman for the likes of John Edwards,” Sununu charged.
Van Ostern answered with a shot at Sununu for having opposed contracts for Planned Parenthood for Northern New England in 2015 before he reversed himself and supported them last spring
“What I say to women is I am the only candidate in the state of New Hampshire who has voted 100 percent of the time in support of Planned Parenthood,” Van Ostern said.
The two also fought over the controversial, $37 million Dartmouth-Hitchcock contract to manage New Hampshire Hospital (See related story, Page A8).
Van Ostern repeatedly attacked Sununu for opposing expansion of Medicaid that has provided health coverage to 50,000 low-income adults.
“If he could have had one other vote, 50,000 would not have health care costs,” Van Ostern charged.
Sununu shot back, “That is absolutely not true.”
The Republican Sununu said he might support extending the program that’s set to expire next year but said making it permanent is the wrong course to take.
“You know what happens when you make Washington programs permanent? You lose control,” Sununu said.
They also battled over the minimum wage; New Hampshire has none and relies on the federally-mandated minimum of $7.25 per hour.
“Chris doesn’t think we should have a state minimum wage at all. That’s devastating for New Hampshire families,” Van Ostern said.
In response, Sununu accused Van Ostern of favoring a minimum up to $12 an hour and warned even a $1-an-hour raise would lift wages for 67 percent of his 800 workers at Waterville Valley.
Despite often-bitter differences, they agreed on some issues like supporting state incentives for school districts to offer full-day, public kindergarten, to eliminate prison terms for the possession of small amounts of marijuana and to pass universal background checks before residents can buy handguns.
They also each favored voluntary incentives and not mandatory sanctions for citizens using too much water during this severe drought.
These two face off in the final televised debate Tuesday on WMUR in a debate series the New Hampshire Union Leader is co-sponsoring at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics.
This has been widely viewed as the most competitive race for governor in 14 years pitting two of New Hampshire’s rising political stars.
Republicans are especially hungry for a win having lost nine of the last 10 campaigns for governor in a state that rewards the victor only a two-year term and grants him or her among the weakest constitutional powers of any state chief executive in the country.
The last time the GOP won the corner office in a presidential election year was Manchester’s Steve Merrill’s first win in 1992.
Polls throughout have shown this race to be very close with Van Ostern opening up a very small lead in the latest one.
On campaign fundraising, Van Ostern is well out in front raising $1.6 million or twice as much as the $823,000 Sununu raised as of last week.
Both national parties are all in when it comes to this race, the Republican Governors Association chipping in with $3 million in attack ads against Van Ostern.
The Democratic Governors Association countered with $2 million of its own against Sununu. The Service Employees International Union and Planned Parenthood have nearly doubled that assault with their own attacks against Sununu and a door-knocking campaign for Van Ostern.