MANCHESTER – With polls showing former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown the clear frontrunner for the GOP U.S. Senate nomination, primary opponents Jim Rubens and Bob Smith today accused him of changing his stands on key issues and not being a pure, principled Republican.
Brown shot back in a radio debate that he was the only lifetime Republican among the three.
The debate was broadcast on WGIR radio, was moderated by “New Hampshire Today” host Jack Heath, with questions posed by New Hampshire Journal news editor John DiStaso. The primary election is Sept. 9, with the winner moving on to face Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen in the general election.
Listen to the full podcast of the debate podcast here.
“Senator Brown, you’re shifting positions on guns, on Obamacare, on global warming – you need to explain what the heck your position is on Obamacare,” Rubens, a former state senator, said in the sharp, hour-long discussion. “They seem to shift day by day so it leads to the impression – the voters, they don’t’ know where the heck you are.”
Smith, a former two-term U.S. Senator and three-term House member, zeroed in on Brown’s support for the so-called “Romneycare” law in Massachusetts, where Brown served as a U.S. Senator before moving full-time to New Hampshire.
Although “this is a friendly rivalry,” Smith said, he posed the question of “who can best show boldly and clearly the difference between them (Democrats) and us?”
Romneycare, Smith said, is a “mini” Affordable Care Act, and he said a reason Mitt Romney lost in 2012 to President Barack Obama is that he could not show “a clear, distinct difference between himself and Obama on the issue.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, said Smith “is going to throw that right back on Senator Brown. She can’t do that with me.”
Brown said, “It’s two different bills” and addressed Massachusetts’ situation. “Anyone who says differently is misinformed and ill-informed.”
Brown staunchly defended his GOP credentials.
“Out of everybody sitting at this table, I’m the only one who has been a lifetime Republican,” he said. “You want to talk about Republicanism? I’m the only one who has been a lifetime Republican.”
Questioned about his support for Obama’s position more than half of the time while in the Senate, Brown said, “I’ve always been an independent voter and thinker. And I am a problem solver and what Washington needs right now is a problem-solver.
“I have a record of legislative accomplishments second to none,” he said. “I’m basically 50-50. I was the most bipartisan senator in the United States Senate.”
Brown sat down with his GOP rivals less than a week after a poll showed that he had pulled to withih a statistical tie with Shaheen among likely voters in the primary.
Also today, Shaheen, in the wake of that poll, unveiled a new television ad, attacking Brown for the first time, and calling him beholden to “Big Oil.” Click here for the Shaheen ad.
The state Democratic Party rolled out a “Big Oil Billionaires for Brown” campaign, with a web site and Facebook and Twitter components.
Brown, criticized by Rubens and Smith, called them “two great guys” and said early in the debate, “You’re not going to hear me say anything negative about them because we have a mission about uniting the Republican Party and bringing over those good independents and Democrats.”
Brown during the debate flatly refused to resign from the board of Kadant, from which he reportedly has earned $270,000, as a result of reports that the company has outsourced jobs.
“There’s only one person in this race who’s been outsourcing and that’s Senator Shaheen,” he said. “I’ve never outsourced jobs.”
He said he could not speak for what Kadant did “five years ago, before I was on the board.” But he said the firm increased U.S. jobs by 5,000.
Brown called it a “very proud and good company.”
“Why are companies moving offshore?” Smith said. “Over-regulation, too much taxation.”
Rubens said his six-point plan to bring jobs back the U.S. includes simplifying the tax code, reducing health care and energy costs, and, he said, “We have to defend our currency,” and, we have to close our borders so the jobs goes to those who are legally here.”
Smith stuck by his long-held belief that the state and national Republican parties are colluding with the Brown campaign to promote Brown and are ignoring the primary.
Smith noted that the Republican National Committee recently sent a fund-raising email to Granite State and out-of-state Republicans “saying that it’s a Brown-Shaheen race. It’s false, it’s misleading and it’s wrong.”
Smith said voters will ignore Brown’s endorsements by national Republicans such as Romney and John McCain.
He also said it is ‘unheard of and it’s wrong” for Sen. Kelly Ayotte, the senior elected Republican official in the state, to back Brown in a primary.
Smith also reiterated his prediction, first made in May, that if Brown is the nominee, he will lose to Shaheen.
“He voted more with the Democrats than he did with Republicans,” Smith said.
Rubens said that 60 percent of the voters are “still undecided as to which candidate they are going to vote for.”
“The celebrity tour has been fantastic, and the media has played into it, but the voters are not convinced. They’re still looking at real solid thoughtful solutions to our nation’s problems, and that’s what I bring to the table,” Rubens said.
Although outside groups are pouring money into paid advertising to promote Brown and attack Shaheen, he said he is running a “typical New Hampshire grassroots campaign where everybody expects you to look them in the eye and ask them for their vote.” He said he has held five town halls is “proud to accept” endorsement from “people who care about the future of our country and our state.”
Questioned by his opponents, Brown said he has a “long and strong record” on the Second Amendment.
Smith countered that Brown was endorsed by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who wants to “break the NRA,” in 2012.
He said Brown does not support concealed carry reciprocity laws and a ban on assault weapons, “so that’s hardly pro-gun.”
Brown said Bloomberg backed him because he did not like his Democratic opponent, Elizabeth Warren – not because he opposed reciprocity, as Brown had stated as the reason at the time. He said he is “not going down there (Washington) to propose any new legislation.” He said he would hold town halls on the issue before voting on controversial measures.
Rubens said Brown’s positions have changed, and he said “taking away people’s constitutional rights is not going to stop gun violence.”
Brown disputed the characterization, saying that he has averaged an A-minus rating from the NRA.
Asked about the so-called Manchin-Toomey amendment of 2013, which would have authorized background checks for gun sales at gun shows and via the Internet, Brown said, “I would have to go back and make sure I read the bill and understood it before I would comment on whether I would have voted for it, and I would have come back and gotten guidance from folks who know a little bit more than I do.”
He also said “mental health is the number one factor in all of these incidents,” such as the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, which prompted Brown to support a federal ban on so-called assault weapons.
Smith said his own endorsement this week by Gun Owners of America “says it all” regarding his position on the Second Amendment.
Rubens said he has received an “A” rating from the NRA.
Smith warned, “We’d better figure out who we are as Republicans,” noting that he left the GOP briefly in 1999 said Smith “because of the positions taken by Sen. Brown here….How can you nominate somebody like that and expect to win?
Smith also said he will wait until after the primary to determine whether he will support Brown in the general election, should Brown win the primary.
Rubens said global warming “is caused by humans,” and Brown “has shifted his positions back and forth.”
He has proposed eliminating all energy subsidies and credits, which he says has slowed creativity in energy production. He said he dropped his support for a carbon tax because he said it is “dead on arrival” in Congress.
Brown said he has not changed his position on climate change, as his opponents, including Shaheen supporters, have suggested.
He said it caused by a combination of natural and man-made factors but he said he also does not want to burden businesses with a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade program. Brown said Shaheen has proposed cap-and-trade and a “national energy tax,” as well as opposing the Keystone Pipeline.
Smith said the issue is “a perfect example” of why it would be difficult for Brown or Rubens to take on Shaheen, “to show the crisp difference of who we are as conservatives and who they are.
“I don’t believe at all that climate change is man-made. There’s no evidence to support that,” Smith said. “We need to produce more energy and take the regulations off.”