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Sep 1, 2016 11:06 PM

Heated moments in NH1 News U.S. Senate GOP primary debate between Ayotte and Rubens

NH1 News Political Director

CONCORD – Sen. Kelly Ayotte and her Republican primary challenger battled over illegal immigration, free trade deals, fiscal issues, special interests, and even Donald Trump, in the first debate in New Hampshire’s blockbuster U.S. Senate race.

While Ayotte’s general election match up with Gov. Maggie Hassan, her Democratic challenger, dominates the race, the incumbent still has a long shot primary challenge on her hands from former state Sen. Jim Rubens. The two candidates faced off Thursday night in an NH1 News debate.

WATCH: The NH1 News U.S. Senate GOP primary debate

Rubens went on the attack soon after the start of the debate, criticizing Ayotte over her 2013 vote in favor of a bipartisan immigration reform bill.

“Unfortunately Senator, you promised to vote against amnesty and to secure the border when you ran last time in 2010. And you broke that promise. You went to Washington and voted for the Gang of Eight, open borders, amnesty, drive down American wages bill,” Rubens charged.

Ayotte defended her past Senate votes on the issue, saying “I feel strongly that we need to secure our border and protect the American people. That’s why the proposal that I voted for would have doubled the amount of fencing, would have doubled the amount of border agents, would have created an entry-exit system. And in fact 40% of the people who are here illegally actually overstayed a visa so we need that system. We need a stronger E-Verify system. And I have voted to end sanctuary cities.”

A few minutes later, Rubens attacked again, this time over the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), a proposed free trade deal involving the U.S. and nearly a dozen Pacific nations. Last year Ayotte voted in favor of the bipartisan Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) legislation, which gave President Obama fast track authority to negotiate the TPP deal.

“We need fair trade policies that do not lead to us bleeding jobs to other countries. So I oppose TPP, I oppose TPA, because it will result in more deterioration of American wages,” he stated. “I differ with my opponent on these crony capitalist trade deals. Totally unfair for Americans.”

Ayotte disagreed, saying “I’ve visited so many great companies in New Hampshire, manufacturing companies. Companies that do great work in producing incredible goods. And they’re exporting a lot of their goods overseas and they do incredible work. And I know that our companies, they can compete in the very best, and are the very best, when there’s a fair playing field. So I did allow the President to negotiate this. But I can’t support it as it’s come forward because he did not negotiate it strongly enough.”

In a rare moment, Ayotte then mentioned the name of the GOP presidential nominee, saying “this is where I agree with Donald Trump, because I think he would be a much stronger negotiator.”

Ayotte’s kept her distance from Trump, saying she’ll vote for him but not endorse him. And in an editorial board meeting earlier this week she said that Trump has not always in the past been totally honest or trustworthy.

Asked in the NH1 News debate about that comment and whether she’d still vote for Trump, Ayotte responded “think about Sec. Hillary Clinton and the lies that she has told. I think that certainly I trust him much more than her.”

But Rubens criticized Ayotte for her stance regarding the GOP nominee, saying “I will vote for Donald Trump and I will endorse him and I have endorsed him. Anything less than this is a support for Hillary Clinton.”

A fiscal fight

Rubens also questioned Ayotte’s fiscal conservative credentials.

“You promised to be a fiscal conservative when you ran in 2010. I supported you in 2010 and worked to get you elected. You get down there. You drink the Washington cool aid and you voted for the Democrats and Obama’s cromibus and omnibus budgets. These are the last two budgets. The proof is in the vote. And you voted to add trillions of dollars to national debt,” Rubens charged.

“You voted recently, last year, to gut, to take $117 billion from the Social Security Trust Fund to fund Welfare. You voted to remove the debt ceiling. These are not the acts of a fiscal conservative. This is fundamental to what Republican stand for. We’re having a primary here so we can have people in the United States Senate who will vote for fiscal responsibility” he added.

Responding, Ayotte said “I strongly support getting our fiscal house in order.. I’ve supported a balanced budget amendment and on every committee that I serve on I’m looking for ways to cut spending and have examples of how I’ve done that. But I want people to understand the things that Mr. Rubens is criticizing me on, the bills that I did support, to make sure that the military had the funding to take on ISIS, to make sure that those resources that I talked about for the heroin epidemic were coming to New Hampshire. And also suspending the medical device tax that is so onerous under Obamacare. Those are important issues for New Hampshire that I wasn’t going to overlook.”

Late in the debate, Rubens accused Ayotte of being in the pockets of special interests.

“You’ve taken tens of millions of bucks from special interests in Washington and it’s the only way you can explain why you would vote to bankrupt the country and fill the budget with so much pork. Why you would vote to leave the borders open and why you would vote for tripling of H-1B visas that are driving down wages for technical workers right here in New Hampshire. I can’t explain it any other way,” he charged.

Ayotte shot back, saying “let me just be clear, it’s not true what Mr. Rubens just said. But let me just be clear about this. I do have special interests. People like Barbara Moussette, who was going to lose her home because she was a victim of identity theft, that I fought the IRS for. People like our veterans who need better quality care, and who I fight for every single day. Our men and women who serve at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, and our guard. Absolutely, every day I wake up to fight for people in New Hampshire and that’s why I do this.”

The NH1 News debate came just 12 days before the Granite State’s Sept. 13 primary.

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