The leading candidates for U.S. Senate met for debates Thursday in North Conway.
The debate, hosted by the Mount Washington Valley Economic Council, ranged from Obamacare to medical marijuana, from the Veteran's Affairs to the National Security Agency. And with the increasing instability in the Middle East the candidates spent plenty of time airing their views on the situation in Iraq.
Pew Research polls have found that only 39 percent of Americans think the U.S. has a responsibility to intervene in Iraq, and former U.S. Senator Bob Smith’s stance matched that sentiment.
“There is no interest for us being there in my view, and we are going to get sucked in to another war, I see it coming right now,” said Smith, when asked if American should be doing more or less in Iraq.
Smith wasn’t alone in being wary of military involvement abroad.
“A bombing war in a Iraq, is a war,” said former state Sen. Jim Rubens. “I am sick to my heart with our young men and women coming back from these wars, without leg and arms, in caskets, with brain injuries, for no increase no improvement in US national security.”
Rye resident and former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown used the Iraq question to criticize incumbent Democrat Jeanne Shaheen, who he said supported what he called “the president’s failed foreign policy 100 percent of the time.”
“The only option we have now is to work with our Arab league partners and allies to do command and control disruption, go after their supply lines,” replied Brown. “Weaken them and allow the Iraqis and the Kurds – our greatest allies in that region, who are being slaughtered – have an opportunity to survive.”
The most recent polls give Scott Brown a substantial lead in the primary contest. An MSNBC poll done in July had Brown winning the primary with 61 percent of the vote, with Smith and Rubens garnering only 16 and 10 percent each.
And throughout the debate Brown acted like the front-runner. On a number of issues he shied away from absolutes. He said the country needs to “find a balance” with regards to the NSA’s gathering of cellphone and e-mail data from Americans.
And then there’s his stance on increasing the minimum wage.
“I have supported minimum wage increases before. I think they need to be periodically adjusted and reviewed, but the key is you have to have the job creators at the table,” Brown said.
His opponents tried to jump on positions like these.
“On the minimum wage, I disagree with Scott Brown as strongly as I can… I agree with Jim,” said Bob
Smith. “The point is what on earth does the federal government have to do with telling you how much to pay your employees?”
Rubens and Smith assailed Brown whenever they could.
Rubens said as a U.S. senator, Brown should have been tougher on the leaders of the Veteran’s Administration, and he alleged that Brown had voted to give illegal aliens in-state tuition in Massachusetts. Brown said both claims mischaracterized his views.
Smith, on the other hand, spent much of the debate trying to position himself as the most conservative politician in the race, and to paint Brown as too moderate to beat Shaheen.
“If I were Jeanne Shaheen and Scott Brown were the nominee, here’s what I would say: Scott we agree on life, we agree on gun control, you voted more with the Democrats than Republicans. And you voted for Dodd-Frank, and so did I,” railed Smith, “Why should people vote for you and not for me?”
While Smith played to core Republican primary voters, Rubens worked hard to paint himself as the candidate of ideas. He pointed to his role in bringing charter schools to the Granite State and in opening up the electrical markets to competition.
“We need bold ideas put on the table, that break through the gridlock of Washington, ideas that are powerful enough to bring together those sixty votes,” said Rubens.
Meanwhile, Brown seemed to be looking toward the general election much of the time.
“I’m an American first, I’m not a Republican first, I’m an American,” he said during his closing remarks.
And unless his poll numbers start to slide, expect Brown to keep this up.