Hassan Declines Foreign Policy Debate

State Dem spokeswoman calls event ‘sideshow’

Maggie Hassan
Maggie Hassan / AP
September 12, 2016

Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan’s Senate campaign balked at participating in a foreign policy debate hosted by a leading nonpartisan think tank.

The World Affairs Council of New Hampshire had invited the two-term Democrat and Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte. The freshman senator’s campaign had been working with the council to set a date, but Gov. Hassan’s campaign refused to participate. Ayotte spokeswoman Liz Johnson said that foreign affairs deserved individual attention given the rise of ISIS and challenges from Russia and China.

"Given the volume of national security challenges our country faces, it's deeply disappointing that Governor Hassan would deny voters the opportunity for an extended discussion on these critical issues," Johnson said in a release.

Ayotte, who sits on the Senate’s Armed Services and Homeland Security committees, has focused much of her campaign on Hassan’s lack of foreign policy experience. This is Hassan’s first run for national office. Ayotte has criticized the governor for her past support for the Iran nuclear deal and her opposition to housing enemy combatants in Guantanamo Bay—positions that Hassan has since distanced herself from.

The Hassan campaign released a statement saying that the campaigns had already agreed to a debate schedule that did not include the Council’s request. Spokesman Aaron Jacobs said in the statement that he expects the three television and two radio debates to give the candidates enough time to cover foreign affairs.

"Foreign policy and national security are critical issues—especially with Senator Ayotte’s decision to put her political party before national security by supporting Donald Trump for Commander in Chief—and these issues should be a significant part of each debate," he said in the statement. "It’s also important to discuss other critical issues for New Hampshire families like the heroin and opioid crisis, college affordability and how to keep our economy moving forward. And we expect those issues will be a part of each debate as well."

A leading Democratic official dismissed the council’s proposal.

Melissa Miller, spokeswoman for the state Democratic Party, called the debate a "sideshow" in a tweet directed at Johnson, Ayotte’s spokeswoman.

"National security is important enough for EVERY debate, not relegated to sideshow like @KellyAyotte wants," she said.

The Ayotte campaign told the Washington Free Beacon that it will continue to work with the council to arrange an event and hopes that Hassan will eventually agree to debate.

"We call on Governor Hassan to reconsider the World Affairs Council's offer to host a debate on the important national security issues facing our country," Johnson said in the statement.

The New Hampshire race could help determine the Senate majority on Election Day. The candidates have traded leads in recent months. Hassan enjoyed a wave of support following the conclusion of the Democratic National Convention in July. That advantage has since evaporated.

Ayotte held an 8-point advantage in a poll released by NBC/Wall Street Journal on Monday. Ayotte now holds a 1.8 point margin over Hassan, according to the RealClearPolitics polling average—a 6.5 point swing to the Republican since August.

The Hassan campaign did not respond to a request for comment.