Gov. Maggie Hassan released her national security plan for her Senate bid on Wednesday with some experts taking note of its hawkish tone.
But others say that it’s not unusual to see that kind of plan in New Hampshire, and Republicans continue to cite Hassan’s inexperience in foreign policy and support for the Iran nuclear deal as disqualifiers in the race.
Throughout the campaign, Hassan has faced criticism for her lack of foreign policy experience compared to Ayotte, who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee. An editorial in the Concord Monitor stated: “Hassan doesn’t need a reminder that foreign policy may well represent her greatest campaign challenge.” Other news outlets have taken note that Hassan sticks closely to prewritten talking points on foreign policy.
But the release of the new plan offers some indication of Hassan trying to position herself close to Ayotte. “If you took Maggie Hassan’s name off of it, it could easily be a Republican plan,” said Wayne Lesperance, professor of political science at New England College. “It’s a muscular foreign policy approach.”
Hassan revealed her five-pronged plan at the American Legion Sweeney Post in Manchester, which included, “destroying ISIS, protecting the homeland, strengthening our military, confronting aggression, and maintaining America’s global leadership.”
“Nothing is more important than ensuring that New Hampshire and America forever remain safe,” Hassan told the crowd. “All of these efforts keep our country safe, secure and strong are only possible if we have leaders who will always put country before their political party, but some are failing that test right now.”
Hassan criticized Sen. Kelly Ayotte, the incumbent Republican looking to hold her Senate seat, for trying to block the Iran nuclear deal and refusing to vote on a bill to stop terrorists from buying guns.
The Ayotte campaign released statements from New Hampshire veterans speaking against Hassan’s support for the Iran deal. “It’s troubling that Governor Hassan chose to side with her party elite in supporting the Iran deal, instead of standing up for our security,” said Dave Marcotte, an Army veteran from Bethlehem. “The administration has acknowledged it sold this deal to the public on false pretenses and admitted that sanctions relief will likely end up in the hands of terrorists.”
But Hassan and Ayotte’s national security plans have some similarities.
They both want to intensify airstrikes against ISIS, strengthen the Visa Waiver program, improve U.S.-Israeli relations and increase military funding.
Dante Scala, associate professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire, said their similar national security plans are not surprising.
“Most NH voters see ISIS as a serious threat,” he said.
According to a WMUR/UNH poll in March, 56 percent of respondents said they see ISIS as a serious threat compared to six percent who do not think it is a serious threat.
Scala also said it’s not the first time a Democrat has taken a hawkish position on national security.
“Back in her first run for Senate in 2002, Jeanne Shaheen took a hawkish position on on using force in Iraq, for instance,” he said. “She also supported use of force in Syria in 2013.”
Lesperance disagrees and said Hassan’s plan is a “smart political move,” but does not reflect a typical Democratic stance.
“Democrats don’t take this approach usually, and I don’t think this would align with where the party is,” he said. “It is a very smart approach because it is in line with [Hillary] Clinton at the top of the ticket. If Bernie Sanders was the nominee, she might have a different plan, but if progressives take a look at this, they are going to be disappointed.”
Hassan’s plan could alienate those progressive voters, Lesperance said.
“It could be an attempt to take voters from Ayotte, but it could also alienate those progressives that don’t like this kind of plan,” he said.
Both Hassan and Ayotte also oppose President Barack Obama’s plan of closing Guantanamo Bay.
“The Governor opposes the President’s proposal to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay because it does not do enough to advance our national security interests or prevent dangerous terrorists from returning to the battlefield,” Hassan’s plan states. “Any plan to secure detainees must include information about where detainees will be transferred, how we will prevent them from re-engaging on the battlefield, and how we will handle both current and future detainees.”
Ayotte has led efforts to permanently ban Guantanamo transfers to the mainland. On Wednesday, she released an unclassified report summarizing the terrorist activities and affiliations of Guantanamo detainees.
“The Obama administration promised transparency, but this new report shows why they’ve been so reluctant to uphold that promise when it comes to the detainees at Guantanamo Bay,” she said in a statement. “The more Americans understand about the terrorist activities and affiliations of these detainees, the more they will oppose the administration’s terribly misguided plans to release them.”
Both candidates also reaffirmed their support for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
“I will fiercely fight back against any effort to undermine our commitment to NATO and make it clear to our NATO allies that the United States will fulfill our treaty obligations,” Hassan said at the unveiling of her national security plan.
Ayotte had a similar sentiment, but also said NATO allies need to play a more active role in training and counterterrorism operations.
“While there is no question that most of our NATO allies need to invest more in defense, America’s commitment to NATO collective defense must not waver,” she said in a statement. “Our investments in NATO are not an act of charity— we deter aggression and make America safer when our adversaries do not question the military capability and political will of NATO members to defend one another.”
While their rhetoric might be similar, Scala said it could be difficult for Ayotte to emphasize her national security plan and experience to the voters, even though she made foreign policy and national defense key issues during her first term.
“I think so far, Ayotte’s advantage here is being squashed by [Donald] Trump’s behavior,” he said. “The longer this election remains a referendum on Trump’s fitness for office, the easier it is for Hassan to tie Ayotte to Trump, and question her judgment for supporting such a person to be commander in chief.”