Three takeaways from the final New Hampshire Senate debate

By Eric Bradner, CNNUpdated: Thu, 03 Nov 2022 02:07:12 GMTSource: CNNDemocratic Sen. Maggie Hassan, who's vying to hold onto her New Hampshire seat next week, didn't hesitate to criticize Pr

By Eric Bradner, CNN

Updated: Thu, 03 Nov 2022 02:07:12 GMT

Source: CNN

Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan, who's vying to hold onto her New Hampshire seat next week, didn't hesitate to criticize President Joe Biden's administration in a debate with Republican challenger Don Bolduc on Wednesday -- especially distancing herself from the administration's handling of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.

New Hampshire's Senate seat is a critical one for Democrats to hold if the party is to retain its narrow Senate majority.

Hassan, a former governor, is widely viewed as the favorite in a state that backed Biden by seven points in 2020, and she has a massive fundraising advantage over Bolduc. But with tailwinds blowing in Republicans' direction and the economy top of mind for voters, there are signs this race is still competitive. Republicans need a net gain of just one seat to flip the evenly divided chamber, where Vice President Kamala Harris has the tie-breaking vote.

Senate Majority PAC, the top Democratic super PAC engaged in Senate races, just added $600,000 to its final week ad reservations in the New Hampshire race. The Democratic spending comes after the top GOP super PAC, Senate Leadership Fund, pulled out of the race in mid-October amid concerns about Bolduc's electability and the need to divert resources to higher-priority states.

In their third and final debate on Wednesday, Hassan said she supported an investigation "to hold the administration accountable" on the Afghanistan withdrawal, while Bolduc said the United States under Biden has "no diplomatic leadership; no political leadership" in international affairs as a result of the withdrawal. They also touched on other issues like the 2020 election, abortion and the border.

Here are three takeaways from their debate:

'Stoking the big lie'

Hassan attempted to highlight Bolduc's history of embracing and parroting former President Donald Trump's lies about widespread fraud in the 2020 election.

She said the retired Army brigadier general spent a year "stoking the big lie, saying it was stolen."

"He then has begun to cast doubt on the 2022 election, now saying that there will be ballots dumped in the middle of the night," she said.

Bolduc, though, attempted to avoid revisiting or repeating his false claims about election fraud, accusing Hassan of "grandstanding" and saying that "we need to focus on the future."

He also criticized the debate's moderators, calling the question about election denialism a softball.

"That's exactly what she needed, right, because she can't hit a fastball," he said.

A split over abortion

Their debate opened with a divergence on abortion rights, an issue that had also played a prominent role in their earlier showdowns.

Bolduc -- who earlier in the campaign said Granite Staters should "rejoice" over the Supreme Court's decision to reverse Roe v. Wade in June -- said he would vote against any federal abortion ban.

"I have promised all Granite Staters that I will not vote for any federal legislation that has to do with abortion. It is a states' rights issue," Bolduc said.

Hassan said that Bolduc was trying to "conceal his record" and gloss over comments he'd made earlier in the race.

She did not directly answer a question about whether she would support any limits on abortion rights or would be willing to strike a compromise on the issue.

"This is about a fundamental right of a woman to make her own health care decisions and her own health and safety. And I believe those decisions have to be made by a woman and her doctor," Hassan said.

The Democratic senator said Bolduc would be "a yes vote for a nationwide abortion ban."

"That is an absolute lie," Bolduc shot back.

Combatting fentanyl

Hassan sought to demonstrate her bipartisan bona fides in a discussion of slowing the flow of fentanyl into the United States, saying she "stood with President Trump as he signed a bill into law that gave our border patrol better technology" to detect the synthetic opioid in 2018.

She said she supports "much stronger security at our border, including personnel, including advanced technology."

Bolduc, meanwhile, said the United States has left its border with Mexico "wide open" for drugs and human trafficking.

"This is a problem that the Biden administration and Maggie Hassan has created," he said.