The five GOP candidates for the U.S. Senate were back together Tuesday for the first time since the New Hampshire Journal debate in June. And once again, Gen. Don Bolduc found himself under fire.

That was no surprise, given a new St. Anselm College Survey Center poll showed the retired general well in the lead with 32 percent, a two-to-one margin over state Sen. Chuck Morse at 16 percent. The largest share of voters is undecided (39 percent), while the other three candidates — Bruce Fenton, Vikram Mansharamani, and Kevin Smith were all in the low single digits.

The two-hour debate was held in the studios of the Jack Heath radio show with Heath as the moderator. The fast-moving event jumped from topic to topic and, other than Fenton’s fundamentalist libertarianism, the candidates largely agreed on the issues.

The few disputes focused on character. Heath brought up Bolduc’s previous remarks calling Gov. Chris Sununu a “Chinese Communist sympathizer,” and his remarks soon after Russia’s invasion about U.S. “boots on the ground” in Ukraine.

And Smith called out the frontrunner for “retreating” from controversial comments made due to Bolduc’s reckless “fire, ready, aim” rhetoric.

Heath asked Bolduc about his previous claim that he drove Sununu from the U.S. Senate race. Bolduc insisted that it was true.

“I took on Gov. Sununu,” Bolduc said. “Everyone told me he was the presumptive candidate for Senate, and when I declared on 8 November 2020, I challenged Sununu’s decisions, his mandates, his executive overreach, everything he did during COVID that hurt Granite Staters.  And I made it a clear point, and I think polls behind the scenes demonstrated that.”

And Bolduc defended the Chi-Com comments, too.

“Listen, he’s on the ‘Chinese Communist friendly’ list as published by our State Department and as briefed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. That’s a fact. Now, I’ve also said that perhaps calling him a Chinese Communist sympathizer was a bit of an exaggeration.”

Bolduc’s controversial statements about Ukraine on Fox News in the first days after Russia’s invasion were also questioned by Heath.

“Did you, or did you not, call for U.S. troops on the ground in Ukraine?” Heath asked. Bolduc claimed he had been set up.

“That discussion was taken out of context by Jennifer Griffin, who is a liberal Pentagon Fox News correspondent who hates President Trump and all conservatives,” Bolduc said. “And that’s what that was. It was a setup. We do have boots on the ground in Ukraine and it’s called CIA and special operation forces. And that’s a fact and people need to come to grips with that.”

Smith called that more reckless rhetoric from Bolduc. “This is another example of where Don has made a statement, then he retreats from it and makes a different statement. Jennifer Griffin did call Don out on a number of occasions on Fox News,” Smith conceded, “but so did Corey Lewandowski. I don’t think anyone’s going to accuse Corey of being a liberal, or not an ally of President Trump.”

Asked about the Department of Justice’s treatment of former President Donald Trump and whether he had confidence in the FBI, Bolduc answered, “I have confidence in the rank and file of the FBI. I don’t have confidence in the leadership of the FBI.”

Smith said Bolduc’s response was part of a pattern of giving different answers to the same questions depending on the audience.

“Last week on Chris Ryan’s [radio] show, Don was clear in saying that we needed to take a wait and see approach [on the Mar-a-Lago raid].  “Then at our debate this past Sunday, speaking to a completely different crowd, Don said that the FBI needed to be abolished. He even hesitated when asked whether or not they should be designated as a terrorist organization.  Now… he’s saying that we need to have trust and trust and confidence in the FBI.

“You know, Don, your M.O. seems to be ‘fire ready, aim,'” Smith said.

“Thank you for that, ‘Town Manager Smith,’ Bolduc replied. “My [answers] have been consistent; it’s your listening and understanding that are faulty.” Bolduc said he had never called for the FBI to be abolished, just held accountable.

Mansharamani and Morse largely stayed out of the fray, while Fenton appeared to look for opportunities to take positions well outside the political mainstream. In addition to calling for abolishing the FBI, Fenton also called Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy a “scammer,” and rejected the idea of mandatory community service for young people as a form of tyranny.

Asked about the “crisis” of the lack of community service among Americans and the need to rebuild public spirit Fenton said he opposed anything mandatory and that he did not see that attitude as a crisis.

“I think it’s great. I think it’s great that people don’t want to work for The Man and work for the system that is completely broken. That’s abused so many of us and costs so many lives,” Fenton said of America’s government.

So, how did the debate play out?

“I think Kevin Smith was the clear aggressor mainly towards Don Bolduc and somewhat towards Sen. Morse,” Jack Heath told NHJournal. “I think Gen. Bolduc and Sen. Morse both held their composure well when Smith went on the offense.

“I think it was interesting that both Bruce Fenton and Don Bolduc were openly critical toward Gov. Sununu,” Heath added. “And I think it was interesting all five raised questions on whether the FBI raid was justified at former President Trump’s residence in Florida, but they also all said that they all would welcome a Trump endorsement.”

The entire debate can be heard on the Pulse of New Hampshire website here.