Sununu, Van Ostern, clash at NH1 News gubernatorial debate
CONCORD – Republican nominee Chris Sununu and his fellow executive councilor and Democratic nominee Colin Van Ostern questioned each other’s ethics as they traded fire in the NH1 News gubernatorial debate.
The two major party candidates vying to succeed Gov. Maggie Hassan in the Corner Office also criticized each other over the state’s controversial contract to staff New Hampshire Hospital, resumed their ongoing battle over each other’s business credentials, and disagreed over issues ranging from health care, the state’s Medicaid expansion program, college affordability, and the state’s minimum wage.
Last month Dartmouth Hitchcock announced that it would potentially lay off hundreds of employees by the end of the year. That announcement came just two days after all five executive councilors voted ago to approve the three-year contract with Dartmouth Hitchcock, which was the only bidder to take over staffing of the mental health care facilities at New Hampshire Hospital in Concord. That vote came amid rising concerns of staffing shortages at the facility.
Since then, Sununu’s urged that the contract be rebid.
Van Ostern opposes such a move, saying that “what he’s suggesting now would mean less doctors, less nurses.”
Sununu shot back, asking “how would we have less doctors by providing choice?”
Hours before the debate Sununu highlighted the campaign contributions Van Ostern’s received from Dartmouth-Hitchcock and employees who work at the medical provider, and suggested that those contributions may have influenced Van Ostern’s position on the contract.
During the debate, Sununu charged that “the fact that you’ve taken $40,000 brings into the question of ethics, of morality, and of checks and balances. Are we going to have a governor that always puts politics first, that puts the dollars in his campaign first. I say absolutely not.”
The argument quickly broke out into a verbal fist fight over ethics, with Van Ostern saying “I’m not going to have any mock outrage from Chris Sununu on this. He’s taken tens of thousands of dollars from the biggest utility company in the state while we sit together on the Council and he votes against every solar energy project.”
“His brothers run a lobbying and public affairs firm and he votes in favor of their clients,” Van Ostern claimed.
“Once again we have another lie by Colin Van Ostern. My brothers are not lobbyists,” Sununu shot back.
Both candidates also tried to paint their rival as beholden to Washington.
"He wants to defer to Washington, let them make all the decisions. This is New Hampshire. This is the 'Live Free or Die' state," Sununu said. "Local control matters."
Later in the debate, Van Ostern claimed that Sununu was speaking out of both sides of his mouth in “the Washington way.”
Top of the Ticket
Asked about his support for GOP nominee Donald Trump, even after the emergence of an extremely lewd audio recording from 11 years ago of Trump boasting that his celebrity allowed him to physically accost women, Sununu once again described the language as “repugnant” and “disgusting.”
Van Ostern countered that Sununu’s continued support of Trump was political opportunism.
“Of the 31 Republican governors around the country, one of out of three have now said they won’t support Donald Trump. It takes being independent minded. And the fact that Chris won’t put what’s right for the people of our country ahead of what’s right for his own politics speaks poorly to the sort of governor that he’ll be for our state,” Van Ostern claimed.
Sununu responded that “this is about our country, this is not about our party. To say that Donald Trump somehow defines our party, I think we know is a foolish statement.”
But Van Ostern shot back that “the reason that he does define the Republican Party is because politicians like Chris Sununu stick with him even after everything that he said.”
The NH1 News debate was the second of the three prime-time televised debates the two nominees agreed to attend.
Hours before the debate a Monmouth University survey of likely Granite State voters indicated Van Ostern with a slight 48%-43% edge over Sununu. But an NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist College poll also released Wednesday afternoon suggested a closer contest, with Van Ostern at 47% and Sununu at 46%.