The Senate candidates in New Hampshire made their final pitch to voters as incumbent Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and her Republican challenger Scott Brown participated in the last debate before the general election.
The themes were familiar as Brown portrayed his Democratic opponent as President Obama’s No. 1 foot soldier, a loyal senator who voted with her party, and the president, 99 percent of the time. Shaheen represented Brown as a man intent on putting the interests of Wall Street and oil companies over the interests of the citizens of New Hampshire.
According to Brown, the biggest threat facing the nation is “radical Islamic jihadists,” and while his opponent said he was using these threats to “fearmonger” Brown said the fear regarding terrorists such as ISIS and Boko Haram is “rational.”
“Their No. 1 goal is to disrupt the society as we know it,” said Brown, a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee while Massachusetts senator. “Right now there have been hesitations and half-steps as evidenced by [former Defense] Secretary [Leon] Panetta.”
Brown said that Panetta’s plan to leave troops in the Middle East was struck down by the president and “we are having more and more trouble in that region” as a result.
Shaheen, of course, agreed that ISIS is a threat but she still does not share Brown’s view that terrorists “are going to cause the collapse of this country.” She maintains that building the international coalition, which she says has 60 nations participating, is the best way to combat the militants in the Middle East.
“I think a bigger threat is not having the commitment and the gumption here in this country to address the threat of ISIS and other threats facing this country,” she said. “America is strong, we have the strongest military in the world and we are going to take on this threat…. What we don’t need is our leaders raising concerns about our ability to take this on.”
Shaheen said that she had confidence in the advice of Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey that ground troops are not needed to combat ISIS “at this time.”
“If the president wants to send in ground troops I think he needs to come to Congress and I think he needs to ask for an authorization for the use of military force,” she said. “The fact is when American interests are threatened we reserve the right to take any action and I think that’s true in this case.”
Brown said he relies on the advice from the generals on the ground and says the president, with Shaheen’s support, has “already taken the greatest fighting force off the table.”
“ISIS is not taking anything of the table,” he warned. “We are a liberating force; we are not an occupying force. I, and every other person in the military, resent the fact that you are calling us occupiers.”
During this debate, immigration was again a contentious topic, and one that has proven to be a divisive issue throughout the race. Shaheen said that Obama should “not take action on immigration” because Congress has “a bill on the floor” that is a “realistic plan” to address immigration policy. Brown said that the bill “immediately gives the president the ability to give preference for jobs” to immigrants.
“In addition to that the president is also seeking to legalize upward of 11-plus-million people, giving them enhanced benefits,” Brown said. “I disagree with that. I will go to the funding source and make sure that doesn’t happen.”
The candidates were also pressed about their respective relationships with Obama. Shaheen was asked about the last time she disagreed with the president, while Brown was asked about the last time he agreed with him.
“I disagree with the administration’s proposal for another round of base closings,” Shaheen said. “I have said, without any hesitation, that we are not going to do another round of base closings.”
Shaheen specifically said she would not put New Hampshire’s Portsmouth Naval Shipyard at risk for closure. Later in the debate, Brown thanked his opponent for supporting that base, where he was born.
Brown commended the president for locating and killing Osama bin Laden in his response but said since that time there has been a “lack of coherent policy” in not only the president’s foreign dealings but in his economic and energy policies.
Brown told the audience that he would seek bipartisanship in clarifying those policies, noting that during his Massachusetts term he was “50/50” in his votes.
“For the last six years Washington has been chipping away at our rights and freedoms,” Brown said. “I’m not going to stand for it…. We have an opportunity, right now, to be that check and balance to the president…. I will bring back that independent spirit, bringing back that New Hampshire advantage.”
Shaheen countered by saying that Brown’s record shows that he is not as bipartisan or independent as he would like the voters to believe.
“He voted for 44 filibusters. That’s more than we had in this country is [50 years],” she said. “I’ve sponsored twice as many bipartisan bills as he has in the Senate and I believe we have got to work across the aisle.”
The contest will ultimately be decided by the voters on Nov. 4.
The latest Real Clear Politics polling average has Shaheen up 3.4 percent on Brown, a gap that has narrowed over the course of the race.