Senate Candidates Trade Swipes In Radio Debate

Aug 27, 2014

Republican US Senate candidates Bob Smith, Jim Rubens, and Scott Brown squared off this morning for a debate broadcast on WGIR. The repeated confrontations during the debate highlighted the growing tension between the trio as September 9th Primary nears.

Former State Senator Jim Rubens for weeks has been demanding Scott Brown lay out what – specifically – he would propose to replace Obamacare. That again was he tactic Rubens used Wednesday morning.

“I know your positions have changed,” said Rubens, talking over Brown’s objections, “I’ve got to come back to this meta-issue, your positions keep changing. You have proposed grandfathering everyone in Obamacare, you’ve proposed that you support state Medicaid expansion – this is hundreds of millions of bucks, there’s no way to pay for it – and you voted under the Massachusetts mandate that government would mandate a specific kind of care insurance.”

With increasing insistency, this is the tack Jim Rubens and Former US senator Bob Smith have taken.

As the summer wanes and attention on the candidates increases, they are trying chisel primary voters away from Brown, the candidate who all along has been perceived to be the frontrunner.

The former Massachusetts US Senator had a parry ready for each of these thrusts. He claimed he never spoken out in favor of Medicaid expansion and that he supports letting states create their own healthcare programs, as Massachusetts did under Mitt Romney.

But some of his responses were less categorical, for instance, when pressed on whether he favors any type of gun control measures, Brown said, “I’m not going down there to propose any new legislation. I’ve made it very clear that if in fact any of these issues come up, I will have a town-meeting-hall and get information and guidance from people who know more and better than I do.”

In 2012, following the Newtown shooting, Brown did say he supported a federal assault weapons ban.

During the debate, Brown similarly dodged answering whether he would have voted for the Manchin-Toomey amendment – a failed bi-partisan proposal that would have required background checks for gun sales over the internet and at gun shows.

Every time one of his opponents saw an opening like this, they used it to burnish their own credentials.

Smith, said New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg endorsed Brown in 2012, because of his opposition to a bill that would allow gun owners to carry concealed weapons across state lines.

“That’s a fact, that’s a quote, that’s on the record, all you have to do is look it up,” said Smith, “And secondly, I just received this week the endorsement of Gun Owners of America. I mean that says it all.”

Brown Responds to Attacks

During the debate he used two questions from the moderators to respond to critiques from the Shaheen campaign as well.

The first instance of this was to clarify his views on climate change. Over the weekend, at a debate in Exeter, Brown was asked, “Do you believe that the theory of manmade climate change has been scientifically proven?” He responded, with one word, no.

During the debate   he had a more nuanced response, which mirrored how he answered this question two years ago. 

"What I said back in 2012 is exactly how I feel now. It’s a combination approach," said Brown, "To answer a yes or no question it was very specific, they said was it solely man-made? I said no. And it’s a not because I believe it’s a combination of manmade and natural."

Brown went on to say he opposes any cap-and-trade or what he termed “energy-tax” proposals, and he favors the Keystone XL pipeline and an “all of the above” energy policy.

He also responded to calls that he resign from the board of a pulp and paper equipment company that the Shaheen camp has painted as a "serial outsourcer"

"What Kadant did, five years ago before I was even on the board, I would suggest that anyone who's interested to refer those questions to the board," Brown said.

Whether jabs like these will serve to chip away at Brown’s perceived advantage in the primary is hard to know until September, but Brown’s focus on the general election remains unflagging.

“I believe I have the best chance to win, and we have an opportunity to take back the senate, make Harry Reid the minority leader and take all those bills on Harry’s desk and put them on the president’s desk,” he said in his closing remarks for the debate.

Bob Smith, Jim Rubens and Scott Brown during a debate earlier this month in North Conway
Credit Sam Evans-Brown / NHPR

Unity?

Should he win, whether he’ll have the support of the runners-up isn’t clear. In an exchange Bob Smith responded to host Jack Heath’s question of whether he would support the winner of the primary.

“The answer to your question is, I’ve said it, over and over again, that when the primary is over, I will make a decision, period that’s it, that’s my position,” said Smith.

When Heath pushed him saying “some would argue that all you’re doing there is helping re-elect senator Shaheen,” Smith only replied, “I have not said no, or yes.”

Smith went on to suggest Brown isn’t conservative enough to get his endorsement.

But with Brown trying to court voters who may have once been in the Shaheen camp, the endorsement of someone like Smith, may not be his top priority.