AP News

NH gov candidates frame issues for each other


CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — The Republican and Democratic candidates for New Hampshire governor are using a tried and true strategy in their campaigns: Frame their opponent's views on issues.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Ovide Lamontagne is using a reliable GOP election strategy of trying to pin a tax-and-spend, liberal Democrat label on rival Maggie Hassan.

Lamontagne points to state budgets Hassan helped write as a state senator that contained tax and fee hikes as proof voters can expect more of the same if she's elected. Lamontagne insists voters can't trust Hassan's word to veto a personal income or general sales tax.

Hassan is adopting a common Democratic strategy by portraying Lamontagne as an extremist with tea party ties who would take away the rights of women to make health care decisions and the rights of gays to marry.

Hassan said Lamontagne is deceiving voters by not discussing social issues or including his staunch opposition to abortion and gay marriage on his campaign website.

"The narratives fit in with the national narratives of the two parties," said political analyst Dean Spiliotes, who writes for NHPoliticalCapital.com.

Republican Party candidates argue Democrats will raise taxes and spend money, he said. Democratic Party candidates say GOP rivals are linked to the tea party and too socially conservative.

Trying to cement his point with voters, Lamontagne's campaign issues daily releases titled "Maggie's Taxes of the Day" with a list of fees or taxes in budgets passed when Hassan was in the Senate.

In response, Hassan has repeated her promise to veto a personal income or general sales tax. She focuses on how the budgets she worked on were balanced without enacting either tax.

"We balanced the budget and left a surplus," she said.

Hassan offers very few examples of revenue measures she would support to produce a balanced budget if elected. She would reinstate a 10 cent-per-pack cut in the cigarette tax made by the Republican Legislature and beef up the auditing division to boost business tax receipts — another area the GOP cut.

Lamontagne contrasts Hassan's openness to those revenue measures with his vow not to raise any taxes and to find places in the budget to cut to offset proposed business tax cuts and spending increases. Hassan points out he has not said what he would cut to pay for millions of dollars in revenue cutting or spending proposals.

Both support a high-end casino near the Massachusetts border.

In fact, Republican and Democratic legislatures commonly used a variety of small tax and fee hikes over the years to balance budgets. That changed with the current conservative Republican Legislature, which did not raise taxes and instead made deep cuts, particularly in aid to hospitals and public colleges.

In attempting to frame Lamontagne for voters, Hassan points to his record running for the U.S. Senate in 2010 when he proudly campaigned on his conservative positions.

She also tries to tie Lamontagne to the conservative group Cornerstone and its legislative agenda, which the group says it expects pledge signers to support. Lamontagne has signed the group's Families First Pledge, which includes bills to limit abortion, allow companies to deny a service to customers if it violates business owners' religious beliefs, repeal New Hampshire's gay marriage law and create a religious exemption to contraceptive coverage in health policies.

Lamontagne signed the pledge that in general supports those principles, but he insists that though he supports conservative principles, he has not read Cornerstone's legislative agenda.

"Those issues are not central to this election. This election is about jobs and the economy," he said. "Social issues are not foremost on people's minds."

As governor, Lamontagne said he would lack the power to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court decision that makes abortion legal anyway, he said.

Hassan says his dismissal of social issues is disingenuous since conservative lawmakers already have filed bills to limit access to abortions that the next governor could find on his or her desk. Legislation to repeal gay marriage also is expected to be filed. She insists it is a mistake to try to separate social issues from a discussion on jobs and the economy.

"I don't know a woman in New Hampshire who believes that if she has to pay more for health care it is a social issue," she said. "If people who want to get married can't get married, that's an economic issue."

Andy Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, said Hassan's strategy is the tougher sell because — with so much attention focused on the presidential race — it is harder to get voters' attention. Lamontagne has an easier time playing to voters' anti-tax sentiment because of the state's long history of opposing income and sales taxes, he said.

"The argument Maggie is making is largely to the Democratic base, to people who would vote Democratic anyway," he said.


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