Both Ovide Lamontagne and Kevin Smith are known for being strong social conservatives. Lamontagne is a champion of the pro-life movement. And Kevin Smith has long been one of the loudest voices opposing gay marriage in the state. But during last night’s debate at Saint Anselm College, both tried to play down these hot-button issues.
"I think the priority is about business, the economy, and job creation, and some of these other social issues need to take a back seat to get the leadership in line with advancing what is good for New Hampshire right now, and that is job creation," says Lamontagne.
Smith sounded a similar message.
"Keep the main thing the main thing," said Smith. "And the main thing is the jobs and the economy issues. People want to know if they are going to have a job a week from now. They want to know about their economic prosperity for the future."
But their plans for just how to achieve that prosperity present voters with a choice. Smith says the state has to become more economically competitive to attract business.
"I’m talking about lowering taxes for all businesses across the board," says Smith. "Between the business profits tax and the business enterprise tax. I want to lower it to 5%. My opponent wants only wants to lower it to 8%. That will hardly move the dial on something like that."
Lamontagne countered that Smith’s long term plan for New Hampshire just isn’t sustainable.
"To sit here today and promise the kind of cuts that we’ve heard, is just not reasonable. It’s not supportable. You have a two year budget. That’s what you’ve got to focus on. And that’s using the real math. Not the new math."
And while both candidates support expanded gambling in the state, the issue sparked the most heated exchange of the night.
Lamontagne wants to see a casino at Rockingham Park, an entity his law firm currently represents.
"But a bidding process that opens up our state to the location of gaming activities anywhere in our state is not acceptable to me. I’ll veto that."
Smith has called for a public bidding process to license two casinos in New Hampshire. He says it’s a plan lawmakers in the statehouse would support.
"To say you want casino gambling at Rockingham Park, but for then to come up with a plan that will never pass the legislature is completely disingenuous, and I think it shows Ovide’s naivety on this particular issue."
"Mr. Lamontagne, are you being naive?" asked the moderator.
"I don’t think I’m being naïve at all," replied Lamontagne.
A question about the so-called Kimberely Cates law also divided the candidates. It would allow for prosecutors to seek the death penalty in cases of murder during a home invasion.
Smith says he would have signed off on the bill, and supports the state’s capital punishment laws.
"I think it should be used in very rare and limited circumstances, but that being said, I think, some crimes are so heinous that they rise to the level that justice requires for capital punishment to be used."
Lamontage offered a stark contrast.
"I would not have signed that bill. I’m pro-life, from the moment of conception, to the moment of natural death. And the only time a state should take life is in extraordinary circumstances."
There was one light moment during the hour long debate. The topic was on age and experience. Lamontagne is 54. Smith, at 35-years-old, questioned the elder’s choice of technology.
"There are some who are going to want to make age an issue in this race, including my opponent. And so let me be very clear. I will not for political purposes exploit my opponent’s old and outdated ideas because of his age. Except to say, I notice, Ovide, that you are still using a Blackberry. You should upgrade to the iPhone," said Smith.
"I was using a Blackberry before it was cool. It’s hard to break a habit like that," countered Lamontagne.
Smartphone policy…just another issue voters will have to weigh before the September 11th primary.