U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan gave the Nashua Chamber of Commerce an ultimatum: Boot Don Bolduc off the stage at its upcoming candidate event, or she walks.
For months, the Gate City’s business organization had planned to host a debate between the two major-party nominees for U.S. Senate for its members and the Nashua community. And according to Chamber President and CEO Wendy Hunt, both Hassan and the GOP nominee, retired Gen. Don Bolduc, had agreed to participate.
But on Thursday, Hunt contacted the Bolduc campaign with news that Hassan would not participate in the event if she and Bolduc were to appear onstage together.
“The position of the Hassan campaign is that they would only participate if this were a stand-alone forum, not a debate,” Hunt said.
The Bolduc campaign responded by calling out Hassan for “hiding behind attack ads” rather than taking questions from the public.
“I never pitched that event as a stand-alone, one-at-a-time forum,” Hunt told NHJournal. “They [the Hassan campaign] understood it to be a debate. But when they called me last Thursday, they said ‘This is the way it’s going to be, and that’s what we’re doing.'”
The Bolduc campaign released a statement Thursday insisting the event was originally scheduled to be a debate and accusing Hassan of pressuring the Chamber to keep the two candidates off the stage at the same time.
“They are correct, there was a change of format,” Hunt confirmed.
“Given her lackluster record in the Senate, Sen. Hassan’s refusal to stand on stage beside General Bolduc is perfectly understandable but also entirely unacceptable,” the Bolduc campaign said. “Public officials owe it to the people they are seeking to represent to make the case directly and answer their questions, not hide behind attack ads sponsored by special interests in Washington.
“This is the action of a desperate politician who knows she is going to face the music from voters in a few short weeks and her time in politics is running out.”
The Hassan campaign declined to respond to requests for comment. It also declined to release the senator’s “public” schedule of events for the coming week.
Gov. Chris Sununu and state Sen. Tom Sherman have both agreed to participate in an October 18 Nashua Chamber debate, part of Sununu’s insistence that he will debate the Rye Democrat “anytime, anywhere.”
That is not the approach of New Hampshire’s incumbent Democrats. Both Reps. Annie Kuster and Chris Pappas refused to participate in Nashua Chamber debates and will instead take part in forums where they can avoid being onstage with their Republican opponents.
While it is traditional for the major party candidates to negotiate a debate schedule, Hassan has declined to do so, instead unilaterally declaring before the GOP primary had even been held which debates she would participate in. Once he had won the GOP nomination, Bolduc released his list, which included the Nashua event Hassan had already agreed to attend.
“Our main focus is to get the statewide and congressional candidates in front of our members to take questions, so we’ll do what it takes to get them there,” Hunt said. “I think it’s a more effective debate when both candidates are on stage, but I respect their decision,” Hunt said.