CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan on Friday kept up her criticism of U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte's past support for Donald Trump, while Ayotte accused Hassan of taking false credit for the state budget.
Ayotte, a Republican in her first term in Washington, is running against Hassan, a Democrat, in one of the most closely watched U.S. Senate races in the country. They squared off in a debate at WGIR radio in Manchester on Friday.
In the 10 days since a previous debate, Ayotte has struggled to distance herself from her party's presidential nominee — first calling Trump a role model for children, then taking it back. After the publication of recordings in which Trump made vulgar and sexually predatory statements about women, she withdrew her support and said she'd write-in vice presidential nominee Mike Pence instead.
Hassan said Ayotte waited too long to denounce Trump and that the senator's previous support showed a "concerning lack of judgment."
"What you didn't hear my opponent say is why she supported Donald Trump for over a year as he made one sexist comment after the next, after he made one racist comment after the next, as he made fun of people with disabilities," Hassan said. "He is a man who seems to think cruelty is a sport, and her support for him has been unacceptable."
Ayotte said she had repeatedly denounced Trump and countered that, unlike Hassan, she is and has been willing to stand up to her party's leadership. And when Hassan accused her of using "Washington double-speak" to explain her position on Medicare, Ayotte said it was Hassan who was acting like a Washington insider when it came to the state budget.
"You want to talk about acting like Washington did? She vetoed a budget, and delayed money to address the heroin epidemic, to address mental health beds that we need," she said. "Now she takes credit for it."
Hassan vetoed a two-year budget approved by the Legislature last year over whether to cut the state's two largest business taxes, a pay raise for state workers and a failure to extend the state's Medicaid expansion. She said she was proud of the eventual compromise that was signed into law and said there was "plenty of credit to go around."
The candidates also discussed the Affordable Care Act, the role of the U.S. in Syria and the Iran nuclear deal supported by President Barack Obama. Ayotte voted against it.
"This is a very bad deal for our country and is one that makes us less safe and our allies less safe," she said. "We should've taken a much stronger position in not allowing them to keep their nuclear infrastructure."
Hassan called the deal an imperfect but important step toward preventing Iran from having a nuclear weapon. On Syria, she again returned to Trump after Ayotte criticized Obama for not being a stronger leader.
"At the end of the day, we do need to have strong American leadership. For over a year, my opponent has supported Donald Trump, who suggested we should weaken NATO, who suggested we should have more nuclear weapons in the world and who won't share a plan to defeat ISIS because he doesn't have one," she said.
Ayotte did not respond directly to that criticism, but returned to her criticism of Obama.