Democrat Maggie Hassan and Republican Walt Havenstein met in their second televised debate last night on WMUR TV.
Governor Hassan and former defense contractor Havenstein both pressed their cases energetically. They spoke at length about energy prices, which are on the rise this winter.
"The fact of the matter is for the last decade and certainly for the last two years, we’ve heard a lot of talk and zero action," said Havenstein.
Havenstein and Hassan both oppose the Northern Pass proposal as is. Both say they’d dial back sentences for marijuana offenders, and both favor quarantining health workers returning from the front lines of the Ebola epidemic.
They split on the death penalty - which Hassan would like to repeal and Havenstein would like to keep - and casino gambling, which Hassan favors and Havenstein opposes.
At every turn, Hassan worked to drive home the big theme of her reelection campaign.
"The other things I hear from businesses is that the most important thing to them to stay competitive is having a 21st century workforce," said Hassan.
Hassan repeated points like this one throughout the debate, taking each opportunity to talk about how she helped freeze university tuition, expand Medicaid, and sign a bipartisan budget.
Havenstein countered by arguing Hassan hasn’t done enough for the economy.
"The fact of the matter is," said Havenstein, "106,000 of our citizens leave the state every day to commute to work. And the reason they leave is because they don’t have opportunities here. And the reason they don’t have opportunities here is because New Hampshire has lost its competitive advantage."
Havenstein said he’d lower business taxes and create 25,000 jobs. But he didn’t have a great answer when asked how he got to that number.
"I looked back and worked with other governors," said Havenstein, "Steve Merrill in particular, and said, 'How many jobs were you able to create under the competitive environment in your administration?' He created 50,000 private sector jobs in four years."
But that was back in the early 1990s, when the entire American economy was growing and New Hampshire’s population was ballooning.
When she had the chance to question him, Hassan tried to turn what Havenstein is selling as his strength – his private sector executive experience – into a liability. She talked about his record at the helm of defense contractor SAIC.
"It shed thousands of jobs. Its stock value went down 30 percent. And it had to break in two at the conclusion of his time. It was a failed strategy and it’s not a strategy we want for New Hampshire," said Hassan.
"That’s simply not true," replied Havenstein. "That’s simply not true."
Havenstein did what he could to call into question one of Hassan’s selling points, that she passed major bills in a bipartisan fashion – a necessity in a bipartisan government.
"The senate finance chair referred to Maggie Hassan’s behavior as toxic partisanship," said Havenstein. "Toxic."
With less than a week to go, don’t expect the tone of this race to get any friendlier. According to the latest UNH poll, Hassan’s lead over Havenstein is solidifying, particularly among independents and undecided voters.