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Mar 24, 2016 10:15 PM

Steinhauser: Ayotte and Hassan side-by-side; both talk 1-on-1 with NH1 News

NH1 News Political Director

NASHUA – Kelly Ayotte and Maggie Hassan agree that they disagree with Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.

But the top two candidates in New Hampshire’s high profile U.S. Senate race don’t see eye to eye when it comes to the push to limit outside spending in their showdown.

Sen. Ayotte and Gov. Hassan, her Democratic challenger, each spoke one-on-one with NH1 News on Thursday, surrounding a student awards ceremony in which the rivals sat side by side.

The event was held two days after Cruz called for law enforcement to step up policing of Muslim neighborhoods in the United States in the wake of the horrific terrorist attacks in Brussels, Belgium.

Asked about the GOP presidential candidate’s comments, the Republican senator said “our policing should be based on the facts and the evidence. So certainly any evidence that we have of people’s ties to terrorism, those should be fully investigated no matter what neighborhood they’re in.”

Hassan agreed, saying that “our first obligation is public safety. It’s also really important that as we exercise that responsibility that we do it in a way that is consistent with American values and demonizing whole sets of people, stereotyping them, not only is counter to our American values, it’s counterproductive in the war on terror. And so I think it is a very misguided idea and I don’t think fear mongering makes us stronger.”

Blame game

But when it came to big bucks third party groups are spending on the Senate race, each candidate blamed the other for a lack of consensus on what to do. The infusion of money by outside organizations in one of the most expensive and negative Senate battles in the country comes as Ayotte and Hassan fight over their efforts to limit third party spending in their race.

Last month Ayotte challenged Hassan to sign the Peoples Pledge.

The pledge is based on the 2012 agreement between then Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts and his Democratic challenger, Elizabeth Warren. It would require either candidate that benefits from third-party spending (from Super PACs, 501c4 groups, and other outside organizations) to folk over 50% of the cost of that ad buy to a charity of the opponent’s choosing.

Hassan’s campaign responded to Ayotte’s offer a day later with what they called a “Strengthened New Hampshire Peoples Pledge” which would limit each campaign to a $15 million spending cap. Ayotte termed Hassan’s move disingenuous and turned down the counter proposal.

Thursday Ayotte told NH1 News that “I offered Gov. Hassan the Peoples Pledge. It was the pledge that worked in Massachusetts in 2012. The same pledge that Sen. Shaheen offered. But it’s clear she doesn’t want to keep this outside spending out.”

“She could of with one stroke of a pen ended this, but I’m going to continue to focus on a positive campaign,” Ayotte added.

Hassan pushed back, telling NH1 News that “I support overturning Citizens United. And I’ve been a proponent of campaign finance reform. Both are things my opponent opposes. My opponent has had $8 million of outside spending spent on her behalf.”

Hassan added that her pledge “would prohibit outside money but would also put a spending cap on the campaigns, because it’s not just the outside money, it’s the influence of money from wealthy donors and the like that really does have an impact on our politics. And I would encourage Sen. Ayotte to reach out directly as I’ve encouraged her to do before to have our campaigns negotiate something that we could have a strengthened Peoples Pledge that would allow us to focus on the issues in this campaign.”

Two of the ads by outside groups that are currently running on Granite State airwaves zero in on the Ayotte’s refusal to consider President Barack Obama’s nomination of federal appeals court judge Merrick Garland to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court. A spot by the Judicial Crisis Network, a conservative organization, supported Ayotte over her stance that the next president rather than Obama should name the successor to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who died last month.

“President Obama wants to rush through another liberal nominee. Kelly Ayotte disagrees. She believes the people of New Hampshire should have a voice in this nomination,” said the narrator in the spot.

A commercial by Senate Majority PAC, the top super PAC backing Democratic Senate candidates, tied Ayotte to Donald Trump, the likely GOP presidential nominee.

“Donald Trump wants the Senate to delay filling the Supreme Court vacancy so he can choose the nominee next year. And Senator Kelly Ayotte is right there to help,” said the announcer in the spot.

Read: First on NH1 News - Senate Majority PAC going up with new spot targeting Ayotte

Asked if she would support Trump as her party’s presidential nominee, Ayotte told NH1 News “I think we’re still in this nomination process and I intend to support the Republican nominee but we’ll see how this plays out. Certainly no one has the delegates yet to get this nomination and we still have many more states to go.”

Side by Side

Ayotte and Hassan sat next to each other at an awards ceremony at the Academy for Science and Design, a public charter school in Nashua that concentrates on science, technology, engineering and mathematics education. All girls middle school and high school teams were honored at the ceremony.

While their campaign for Senate is heated, both the governor and the senator were extremely polite to each other at the ceremony.

“I’m very honored to be here with Gov. Hassan,” Ayotte told the audience.

“Sen. Ayotte. It’s great to be here with you as well,” Hassan said.

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