In an act of what one political pro calls “unprecedented arrogance,” Sen. Maggie Hassan had already declared what debates she will participate in and who will host them — even though Republicans have yet to pick their nominee.
Across the nation, party nominees for the U.S. Senate are negotiating their fall debate schedules and who will moderate them, most notably in Pennsylvania where the Democratic nominee, Lt. Gov John Fetterman, is still suffering the effects of a stroke. Like Hassan, Fetterman has announced his debate schedule: just one debate, and not until mid-to-late October.
Unlike Hassan, Fetterman has a GOP opponent, Dr. Mehmet Oz, who promptly rejected the one-sided proposal and is pushing for far more face-offs. Few political observers believe Fetterman will be able to get away with unilaterally setting the debate schedule in Pennsylvania.
In Georgia and North Carolina, campaigns are still debating their debate schedules, the AP reports.
Is New Hampshire different?
In her press release, sent five days before the September 13 primary, Hassan’s campaign said she will participate in three debates: A televised debate on WMUR, a forum hosted by The Mount Washington Valley Economic Council, and one hosted by left-leaning organizations New Hampshire Public Radio, New Hampshire PBS, and New Hampshire Bulletin.
“The unprecedented arrogant of Hassan shines through,” said veteran GOP strategist Rick Wiley, who is working on Gen. Don Bolduc’s GOP primary campaign.
Wiley, who has worked on campaigns in more than 30 states, including serving as a senior advisor to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said the issue isn’t Hassan’s debate schedule but her sense of entitlement at believing she is the person who can make this decision.
“It almost reminds me of the queen, looking down on the rest of us,” Wiley said, adding: “We haven’t heard from anybody about debates. We’ve got an election to win first.”
Dave Carney, who is helping guide the Chuck Morse U.S. Senate campaign, may be facing off against Wiley, but he agrees on Hassan’s dictating the debate schedule.
“This is not the norm,” Carney said.
And it is not just Republicans calling out Hassan.
“We are disappointed that Sen. Hassan has chosen to skip the New Hampshire Today Show, Union-Leader, and New England College debate,” tweeted WGIR radio host Chris Ryan. “New Hampshire has a long tradition of voter engagement and this opportunity to discuss the issues with the Republican nominee provides just the opportunity.”
Radio host Jack Heath said he was “frankly surprised.”
“Sen. Hassan has done my debates since she first ran for governor,” Heath said. “Her camp asked me a few weeks ago if I was doing a debate on my show and I said yes. I assumed she would participate. It seems the only radio debate is with NPR.
“No disrespect to NPR, but I dare say my morning show reaches a greater spectrum of voters than they do, and I have both sides of the political aisle on my show.”
Heath was not the only person to note the apparent political bias in Hassan’s selection. While NHPR, NPR, and the NH Bulletin are left-of-center, there are no center-right media outlets included.
And some news organizations, including NHJournal, have been waiting for the Republicans to have an actual nominee before issuing debate invitations. Hassan is attempting to pre-empt all that.
The two questions are whether she will be able to get away with breaking norms and refusing to negotiate a debate schedule with her opponents and whether the eventual Republican nominee will be willing to participate in a debate schedule that gives Hassan an ideological home-field advantage.
Hassan declined to respond to requests for comment. However, in her press release she attempted to defend her pre-emptive actions by noting her debate schedule matches that of the 2020 general election between Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Republican Corky Messner.
However, in 2016 Hassan participated in five debates when she was attempting to defeat incumbent Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R). Why is Hassan pushing for a restricted debate schedule without any negotiation? Before she even has an opponent?
“In a competitive race where an incumbent is well below 50 percent and has been losing in matchups all year long, it’s not a surprise,” said Carney. “She can’t defend her voting record, so she will dodge and try and run out the clock.”