Senator Jeanne Shaheen and her Republican challenger, Scott Brown, debated for the first time yesterday in North Conway.
But both candidates focused more on spelling out big differences on policy than they did on rehashing the pointed attack lines promoted by their respective campaigns.
The charged sloganeering wasn't entirely absent. In his opening statement, Brown delivered his campaign’s fundamental argument: That Shaheen votes with President Obama and his polices 99 percent of the time.
“Now last week the President said this election is about him and his policies, and I agree,” he said. ”So you will have a very clear choice as to who you want to vote for. Someone who’s going to be a rubber stamp for those policies, or someone who is going to be an independent voter on those issues.”
Shaheen, meanwhile, made her basic case against Brown: That his record is one of doing the bidding of Wall Street and "Big Oil."
"And he continues to support subsidies to the big oil companies to the tune of 20 billion dollars,” she said. "And he continues to oppose closing loopholes that not only allow companies to ship jobs overseas but actually incentivizes them to do that… he’s now on the board of a company that has as its business model to outsource jobs to China and Mexico. I don’t think that’s the right approach for us.”
But in the main, this debate was one of substance.
On the Affordable Care Act, for instance, Brown focused on its stumbles in New Hampshire. He called for the law’s repeal, and more state autonomy in regulating the health care system.
“Now as you remember, Senator Shaheen said you can keep your doctor, you can keep your hospital, you can keep your care facility, you might even get a check for 2500 dollars," he said. “We found out that’s not true."
"Ten of our 26 hospitals are outside of the network. It’s broken we can do it better we can protect the rights and freedoms the pre-existing conditions the catastrophic care if that’s what’s important to you sit then let’s go forward and get it done. I believe we can do it better than the federal government,” Scott said.
Shaheen focused on what she says are the law’s prospects for success. She stressed that four new health insurers are set to join the state’s health care exchange next year. She also cited a Congressional Budget Office estimated that pegs the cost of repeal at a trillion dollars.
“What Scott Brown is proposing would throw tens of thousand of people off health care,” she said. “It would put us back into a system where the insurance companies could deny care to people who have pre-existing conditions," Shaheen said.
"Women could be discriminated against for being women. Young people could no longer be on their parents insurance. People on Medicare would be denied help for prescription drug coverage that’s available under the law, so I think that repealing it and having no plan is not the answer. “
And while they were never asked directly about partisanship in Washington, both took pains to show they could reach across the aisle. Shaheen repeatedly name-checked Republicans she had worked or agreed with on issues.
“I worked with Tom Coburn, Republican from Oklahoma… which was supported by Senator Ayotte… worked with Senator Bozeman, Republican from Arkansas… worked with Johnny Isaacson Republican from Georgia... worked with John McCain…”
Brown, who’s staked his campaign on casting Shaheen as a partisan Democrat, was having none of it. He cited independent reports that found that when he was in the Senate, he voted against the majority in his own party roughly 50 percent of the time.
“I want to move forward in an independent manner,” he said. “If your issue is gridlock? Then I’m the one you want to send to Washington. I was 50-50...”
On one point, though, the two did manage a brief détente. Even though both have been criticized for missing committee meetings -- Shaheen on ISIS, Brown on border security -- they agreed it’s physically impossible for Senators to make every hearing, due to overlapping commitments.
But still, they couldn’t quite let it go: each said there were some key meetings that the other should have attended.
Scott Brown and Jeanne Shaheen are slated to debate three more times. All will be televised.