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Hassan and Bolduc spar over abortion and election denial in testy New Hampshire Senate debate

<i>Getty Images</i><br/>Democrat Sen. Maggie Hassan and Republican Don Bolduc sparred over abortion during their second debate in the New Hampshire Senate race on October 26.
Getty Images
Democrat Sen. Maggie Hassan and Republican Don Bolduc sparred over abortion during their second debate in the New Hampshire Senate race on October 26.

By Dan Merica, CNN

Democrat Sen. Maggie Hassan and Republican Don Bolduc on Thursday sparred over abortion during their second debate in the New Hampshire Senate race, with the retired Army brigadier general getting visibly worked up by the attacks being lobbed at him on the issue.

The debate was particularly testy — far more so than their first contest. Bolduc accused Hassan of “empowering” drug cartels and said the Democrat’s votes “have driven (inflation) and that is the problem we have.” Hassan responded by accusing Bolduc of “singing (big oil’s) song” and said the Republican’s views on abortion can “harm women and cost them their lives in some cases.”

The race in New Hampshire is a key contest for both parties. Hassan entered the year as one of the most vulnerable Senate incumbents in the country, hampered by antipathy for Democratic control in Washington. But Bolduc, despite winning the primary in September, was not the first choice among top Republican operatives, some of whom worry that his more far right views have imperiled their chances of unseating the New Hampshire Democrat.

The tightness of the race was clear during the debate, with both candidates taking any chance they could to hammer their opponent less than two weeks before Election Day.

At one point, Bolduc turned to someone in the audience who, he said, had a mask on that accused him of wanting to ban abortion.

“I do not support, I do not support a federal ban either for or against abortion at the federal level. It is now a state issue,” Bolduc said, looking at the audience. “I support New Hampshire’s law. I support Granite Staters. She lies.”

When pressed on whether he would vote for a federal law on abortion, he added, “No, no, no. And I have told Mitch McConnell and I have told Lindsey Graham.” Graham, the Republican senator from South Carolina, recently rolled out a federal bill that would ban abortion after 15 weeks with exceptions for rape, incest, and when the life of the mother is in danger.

Abortion has been central to Hassan’s argument against Bolduc.

“Don Bolduc and anti-choice Republicans are taking away your personal freedoms,” the narrator in Hassan’s first general election ad said.

Bolduc specifically complained about those ads, saying, “I know what these ads do. I know what these lies do. Lying about social security, lying about everything.”

Hassan did not back down from the attacks, though.

“This is about a woman’s fundamental freedom, her health and her safety and Don Bolduc has a very long record of extremism here,” Hassan said. “The problems with politicians like Don Bolduc drawing arbitrary lines in terms of these decisions is that they can in fact harm women and cost them their lives in some cases.”

Voting and election denial has also dominated the broader Senate race and it was a flash point in the debate, too.

When Bolduc was asked about voting in New Hampshire, he raised the prospect of “school buses loaded with people” who aren’t permitted to vote going to the polls in New Hampshire and thousands of people voting without identification and not coming back to verify their identity.

Someone in the audience seemingly laughed when Bolduc said this, causing the candidate to say, “You can laugh about it, but people in New Hampshire aren’t laughing about it.”

“I am claiming that is what Granite Staters tell me,” Bolduc said. “And I am saying we need to respond to that.”

When pushed on his claim about buses of people and whether he needed to verify that claim, Bolduc said, “I think we need to verify that. That is what I just said. Can you listen to me here for a second?” But he added later, “I think it is valid.”

Bolduc centered his primary campaign on denying the results of the 2020 election.

“I signed a letter with 120 other generals and admirals saying Trump won the election, and damn it, I stand by [it],” Bolduc said during a mid-August debate. But shortly after the primary, Bolduc tried to walk back those comments, saying he had “done a lot of research on this… and I have come to the conclusion — and I want to be definitive on this — the election was not stolen.”

But since that walk back, Bolduc has struggled to fully deny the 2020 election was stolen, including raising the unsubstantiated possibility of 2022 election impropriety.

Hassan used the exchange to highlight that back and forth.

“What you just heard from Don Bolduc is his continued attempt to stoke the big lie, he has traveled around this state for over a year now, stoking the big lie that 2020 was stolen,” Hassan said.

She added: “Here is the thing about election deniers: He is working, and has been working, to conceal how extreme he is… here is the reason why having free and fair elections matter, it is because it is the way people in New Hampshire hold us accountable. Don Bolduc can ignore where most Granite Staters are … because he thinks he doesn’t need to accept election results.”

Later in the debate, Bolduc accused Hassan of being a “2016 election denier.”

At one point, both candidates got visibly exasperated with each other.

After Bolduc claimed that he “never said” he wanted to terminate Social Security, Hassan directed viewers to go to a website her campaign stood up to highlight several of Bolduc’s positions, noting the fact that there were videos of Bolduc taking certain positions.

“That have been tampered with,” Bolduc interjected.

“Oh my goodness,” Hassan sighed.

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