NORTH CONWAY — Although they disagree on a number of points, the three Republicans hoping to be their party’s candidate for U.S. Senate in the November election agreed that any one of them would be better in office than incumbent Democrat Jeanne Shaheen.
Shaheen is running unopposed for the Democratic nomination, which assures her of a spot on the Nov. 4 midterm election ballot. To get to that ballot, Granite State Republicans are taking a longer route with a Sept. 9 primary and a choice among Bob Smith, Jim Rubens and Scott Brown.
On Thursday morning, Smith, a former congressman and senator from New Hampshire, Rubens, a former state senator, and Brown, a former U.S. senator from Massachusetts, squared off at the Mount Washington Economic Council’s Eggs & Issues Breakfast.
Held at the North Conway Grand Hotel, the breakfast, which was later followed by a debate, attracted about a hundred observers, with Democrats — based on some of the questions submitted to moderator George Epstein — also in attendance.
The 90-minute debate was generally cordial.
There were few revelations — each of the candidates wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act and repeatedly connected Shaheen to what they said were the failed policies of President Barack Obama — but the debate did include some pointed exchanges, mostly between Brown and Rubens.
Asked about the scandal that roiled the Veterans Administration when it was revealed that some hospital administrators were fabricating their patient waiting lists, which resulted in some veterans not getting the care they needed and in some cases dying while waiting, Brown said that, in 2012, he was among the first senators to say that the agency’s administrator should be removed.
Rubens, however, said neither Brown nor Shaheen did anything to correct the situation at the VA, calling the inaction “unconscionable.”
For his part, Smith gave Brown a pass, saying the Obama administration places a low value on veterans’ affairs.
The candidates agreed that another American military intervention in Iraq is a bad idea: none wanted a third war, with Smith pointing out that the sectarian conflict in Iraq stretches back to the 7th century.
The candidates agreed that the right balance needs to be found between privacy and intelligence gathering that could prevent future terrorist attacks, although Rubens chided Smith for introducing the Patriot Act and Brown for supporting it.
Other than abrogating the Fourth Amendment, the data culled under the Patriot Act has never prevented one attack, said Rubens.
While they differed in how it should be done, Rubens, Smith and Brown said Social Security and Medicare need to be reformed and government spending reined in. Rubens suggested “means testing” for Social Security and Medicare and said if someone else has a better idea, they should put it forward.
Rubens said there are many questionable government expenditures that should be considered for cuts or elimination, wondering — in an apparent allusion to Smith and Brown — if someone was unwilling to proffer a “meaningful” suggestion during a primary debate, how they would ever have the courage to do so while in office.
Unified on medical marijuana — it should be available, the candidates said — Smith, Brown and Rubens split on the federal minimum wage. While Brown said he was amenable to increasing the wage when it was prudent, Rubens said he opposes a federally-set wage and Smith admitted he was “baffled” by how any Republican could support it.
The trio said they were each opposed to illegal immigration and policies that would “incentivize” it.