Hassan and Bolduc clash in tense New Hampshire Senate debate

With less than two weeks to go before election day, Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan and Republican challenger Don Bolduc went head-to-head in an afternoon debate, clashing  on the economy, abortion, election integrity and the border. It comes as there has been an influx of cash in and out of the Granite State Senate race in the final stretch of the 2022 midterm campaign.

The U.S. Senate race in New Hampshire has tightened slightly in recent weeks, with average polling putting Hassan up just over 3.4 points over Bolduc, who won the GOP primary in mid-September despite opposition from establishment Republican groups.

On Thursday, Hassan announced that first lady Jill Biden would be joining her at two campaign events this weekend.

Bolduc, a retired brigadier general who has never served in elected office, attempted to paint himself as an outsider and Hassan as a career politician. Hassan accused Bolduc of being an extremist and touted her ability to reach across the aisle in the Senate.

Don Bolduc, Maggie Hassan / Credit: Getty Images/Scott Eisen, Getty Images/Scott Eisen
Don Bolduc, Maggie Hassan / Credit: Getty Images/Scott Eisen, Getty Images/Scott Eisen

At times Bolduc was confrontational, speaking over the moderators and audibly groaning while Hassan was talking. But Hassan also showed signs of weakness, failing to jump in and defend herself and Democrats against a series of Republican criticisms.

On the economy, Bolduc blamed Democrats' policies for inflation, saying he would change all the energy policies of the Biden administration and cut spending. When asked how Democrats were entirely to blame, he said it was a "Republican and a Democrat problem."

Hassan addressed inflation, referring to it as a global issue. She also mentioned price gouging and pointed to the recent record profits of big oil companies. The New Hampshire senator argued that  the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act's provisions would bring down Medicare and prescription drug costs,  helping struggling Americans.

Abortion was a hot topic in the debate. The moderator referenced a recent comment by Bolduc on the campaign trail in which he suggested that in vitro fertilization needs to be investigated and asked Bolduc what he meant by that.

"Well, I have no idea because I don't have [a] reference to that," Bolduc responded. "I do not support a federal ban either for or against abortion," he said. He accused Hassan of lying about his stance on the issue.

Meanwhile, Hassan was pressed over her support for delaying the end of Title 42, the health policy first used by the Trump administration to largely shut the border to asylum seekers during the pandemic. The moderators noted some activists have said it is racist.

"We have to have a secure border so that we can run an asylum adjudication system that honors our values," Hassan responded. "But the first job of government is to keep people safe, and right now we don't have enough …border patrol agents at the border. I have voted to provide significantly more there."

Hassan also called for more technology at the border and said there were some gaps in physical barriers that should be closed.

During the debate, Bolduc, an ardent supporter of former President Trump, continued to stoke concerns about election integrity. When asked if he believes the state's governor and secretary of state are wrong for saying elections in New Hampshire are secure, Bolduc rattled off a series of concerns he said he is hearing from people he meets campaigning across the state but did not offer any proof to back up the claims.

"They don't like the fact that they can't trust the mail-in ballot system. They don't like the fact that there was proven irregularities with voting machines that haven't been certified in 20 years. They don't like the fact that same-day voter registration causes fraud. If Granite Staters don't like it, then we need to take a look at it," Bolduc said.

He went on to say he wanted the state Legislature to look at same-day voter registration. And raised several other baseless claims.

"We need to make sure that school buses loaded with people at the polls don't come in and vote," Bolduc said. When asked to clarify his statement on the buses, Bolduc said he was "claiming that that is what Granite Staters tell me, and I'm saying we need to respond to that."

"What you just heard from Don Bolduc is his continued attempt to stoke the 'big lie,'" Hassan responded. "He has traveled around this state for over a year now, stoking the big lie that 2020 was stolen."

Later in the debate Bolduc said he admits he "got it wrong on the 2020 election" when asked about his shifting stances on the campaign trail but accused Hassan of being a 2016 election denier. He also reiterated his belief there are integrity issues in the elections.

On climate change, when asked if the federal government should have a role when it comes to establishing targets for reducing emissions, Bolduc said federal government involvement in business is a "complete waste of money and a waste of time." He argued the state government should do it.

Hassan said she's in favor of returning to a talking filibuster, but she also said there are some fundamentals to democracy, like voting and abortion rights, where the Senate minority should not be able to block votes. Bolduc said he does not support ending the filibuster.

The debate came as the Republican Senate campaign arm has returned to help Bolduc in the state after withdrawing money earlier in the cycle. It came as the Mitch McConnell-aligned Senate Leadership Fund shifted its money out of the race.

The super PAC's president told CBS News at the time it was moving resources to where it could be most effective in helping Republicans win the majority.

Bolduc and Hassan will debate again on Nov. 2.

Fin Gomez contributed reporting.

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