By now it seems inevitable: A debate question gets asked about something other than the presidential race, but soon enough, the discussion is about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Wednesday night, it took seven minutes for them to enter the debate.
Maggie Hassan was talking cyber security, and then:
“But it is concerning to me that the Republican nominee in the presidential race has showered praise on Vladimir Putin, has praised him and in some ways invited him to make made an attack of some sort on our electoral system, and that’s one of the reasons I’m so concerned that Senator Ayotte has spent so much time supporting the nominee.”
And Kelly Ayotte was ready—to turn the discussion towards Hillary Clinton’s email server.
“You want to talk cyber crime, that was really putting information that could have jeopardized national security at risk. And if she is not going break with Hillary Clinton on this, when is she ever going to break with Hillary Clinton?”
The claims and counterclaims on independence and effectiveness continued all debate long.
“I am one of the most bipartisan senators in the entire senate. I stood up to Ted Cruz in my own caucus on the government shutdown.”
Whether it was on Ayotte’s record in the Senate:
“But what is really on the line in this senate race is whether we’re going to continue to have a senator who fails to stand up to corporate special interest, which is what Senator Ayotte has failed to do.”
Or when the discussion turned to Hassan’s management of the state budget:
“You want to talk gridlock? It’s vetoing a bipartisan budget because there’s a reduction for business taxes, and then both parties overriding your veto, that’s gridlock.”
“I vetoed the budget, we had a continuing resolution, we kept government going and then we brought people together and we had a compromise.”
Neither candidate strayed much from familiar arguments. And that held even when both candidates were asked to rate which of the dozens of attack ads funded by the outside groups who have plowed more than $100 million into this race had been most unfair to their opponent. Neither candidate gave too much ground. Ayotte did mention ads that had gone after Hassan on the opioid crisis.
“You know I think in the beginning I called for some of the ads to come down that attacked Governor Hassan on the heroin epidemic.”
When it was Hassan’s turn, she skipped a direct reply and pivoted to criticize Ayotte for not opposing the Citizens United ruling that loosened campaign finance restrictions.
“I don’t think corporations are people. I don’t think they should be able to bring all the dark money spending into our state, and you know Senator Ayotte’s voting record kind of tells you she thinks corporations are people too.”
With polls showing this race tight and the election five days away, don't expect either side to let up.