The battle lines in this debate became clear early, very early. In fact, Maggie Hassan was just 6 seconds into her first answer to a general question on the economy when she sought to blunt the tax and spending critique she must have known was coming.
"It’s really important that we have a strong and competitive economy, and that of course comes with opposing an income or a sales tax."
Ovide Lamontagne also reiterated his opposition to sales or income or any other new taxes. He said Hassan’s record as a State Senator exemplified what he termed the stark differences between them.
"My opponents was actually the majority leader for the democrat controlled senate, and oversaw spending increases way beyond the cost of living. Supported 99 tax and fee increases in her time, including an income tax on small businesses, called an LLC tax."
This dynamic was inverted when it came to social issues. There, Lamontagne, who’s been a vocal foe of gay marriage and abortion, sought to limit discussion.
"I really don’t think they are that relevant at all for this election cycle."
While Hassan pressed on for detail, particularly on abortion.
"You can’t be the governor for everybody in N.H. if you deny a woman the right to make her own health care decisions or to deny people."
"But it’s the law of the land, and as the Governor of N.H. if you are duty bound to enforce the law of the land and I will."
"But if a bill came to your desk to ban abortion you would not sign it?"
"It’s not coming to my desk, the law of the land provides for abortion that’s not changing."
The candidates also clashed over how the state handled the hepatitis c outbreak at Exeter hospital. Hassan suggested cuts to the state budget may have slowed the state’s response.
"Let’s realize that the department of health and human services along with our hospitals, which this legislature has put in place."
Lamontagne called that charge reckless.
"To suggest to any extent that the response of HHS was a function of anything else was irresponsible. It’s a classic politicizing of an issue."
Neither candidate offered specifics on how to improve NH’s transportation infrastructure, but they spilt on how to pay for them: Hassan said higher tolls and an increase to the gas tax need to be part of the discussion. Lamontagne ruled that out. Lamontagne, meanwhile, said NH needs to move new state employees to 401 k style retirement accounts, which Hassan ruled out. Hassan said she’d reverse a ten cent cut to the state tobacco tax, Lamontagne said he won’t.
In general, both cast the other as representing the poles of their parties. Hassan called Lamontagne a Tea Partier; Lamontagne chided Hassan for a government-centered world view. But on one issue, at least they were in full agreement.
"Should N.H. liquor stores be allowed to sell beer?"
“No, I’d preserve the status quo.”
“We agree on that.”
Expect to hear even less consensus as this race develops.