Republican U.S. Senate nominee Don Bolduc has rejected the unilateral debate proposal issued by Sen. Maggie Hassan before the GOP have even held its primary, releasing his own plan for seven debates with the incumbent Democrat.
“Sen. Hassan has spent too much time in Washington, D.C. if she thinks she can avoid debates and still convince voters to give her another six years in the Senate,” Bolduc said in a statement. “Her presence in the state is already woefully inadequate, and now she is trying to limit the number of times she has to answer difficult questions in an unscripted setting. From town hall meetings to retail stops to debates, I have been campaigning the New Hampshire way from day one.
“That’s why I am happy to accept seven debate invitations, and hope Sen. Hassan will join me so Granite Staters can hear from their candidates directly, and not just via television attack ads.”
Bolduc’s proposed debate schedule includes the three match-ups on Hassan’s pre-primary list: WMUR, NHPR, and the Mount Washington Valley Economic Council. It also added:
- iHeart Radio, NH Today, and New England College
- Pulse of NH Debate
- New Hampshire Home Builders Association
- Nashua Chamber of Commerce
Bolduc’s decision to include the NHPR was seen as something of a surprise, given the partisan nature of the network and the debate Hassan agreed to weeks before she had an opponent. NHPR has partnered with New Hampshire PBS and New Hampshire Bulletin, both left-of-center outlets.
“Why would any Republican agree to get grilled by a bunch of liberals at New Hampshire Public Radio who are already working with Maggie Hassan?” asked veteran GOP communications professional Patrick Hynes. “Why would any Republican trust them to be fair? Everyone knows they’re partisan. This is just ridiculous.”
One question is whether Hassan will show up for all seven events, which political insiders consider unlikely. The other, just as important question, is whether she will follow common practice and negotiate a debate schedule with her opponent, or refuse to negotiate and offer her own schedule on a “take it or leave it” basis.
The same question has been raised in the First Congressional District race, where GOP nominee Karoline Leavitt has also released her list of debates to face off against incumbent Democrat Rep. Chris Pappas. Her list of five forums includes a mix of radio and television venues:
- Good Morning New Hampshire with Jack Heath
- The Howie Carr Show
- Mount Washington Economic Council
- The Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce
“I look forward to sharing my plans to fix the economic, energy, and immigration crises we face in Congress,” Leavitt said in a statement. “I hope Chris Pappas will give voters the same opportunities to hear from him, especially considering he has not hosted an in-person town hall in nearly two years.”
Leavitt’s proposal is slightly different from the one Pappas released, which included just four debates — the Mount Washington, Manchester Chamber, and WMUR events on Leavitt’s list, plus a debate hosted by New Hampshire Public Radio. No Jack Heath or Howie Carr.
Like Hassan, Pappas released his debate schedule before the GOP primary votes had been counted.
Veteran GOP strategist Rick Wiley, who is working on Bolduc’s campaign, described Hassan’s attempt to manipulate the debate schedule before she even had an opponent as an act of “unprecedented arrogance.”
Will Hassan and Pappas show their opponents the common political courtesy of negotiating a debate deal? Or will they only show up at the venues with which they have already reached agreements?
Both Hassan and Pappas work hard to avoid encounters with less-than-friendly media. Neither has held an open press event in at least three years, and they regularly block accredited members of the press from their public events. On two occasions, Pappas has fled events rather than answer questions about public policy from NHJournal. Granite State politicos doubt those Democrats will agree to anything other than friendly debate venues.
Meanwhile, Republican candidates across the country are choosing to largely ignore the mainstream media, which according to surveys, is dominated by Democrats. And some Granite State Republicans have stopped responding to requests for comment from left-of-center media outlets, too. Instead, they are using social media to work around the left-of-center press and reach directly to voters. If Hassan and Pappas refuse to compromise, it would add momentum to the movement of the two parties into their own media silos.
Democrats in states like Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Colorado have negotiated debate schedules with their GOP opponents. Will Democrats in New Hampshire do the same?