Gov. Maggie Hassan is having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week when it comes to national security.
On Monday, Hassan dodged questions about other potential terrorist threats in the United States after the weekend attacks in New York, New Jersey and Minnesota.
“Given two chances, Gov. Hassan declined to say definitely whether she thought there were other potential attackers in the U.S.,” said WMUR reporter Adam Sexton.
Hassan and her Republican challenger, incumbent Sen. Kelly Ayotte, answered questions about national security from reporters after appearing at an AARP Senate candidate forum to discuss Social Security. New York bombing suspect Ahmad Khan Rahami was apprehended following a shootout with police earlier Monday morning.
“We are in constant contact with the FBI, and this is an evolving situation, and I think what’s really important is for all Americans to stay vigilant, and if they see something, say something, and as this situation evolves, I think we’ll learn more,” Hassan said.
The Hassan campaign later released a statement to WMUR clarifying the Democratic governor’s response.
“That’s exactly what our law enforcement and counter-terrorism officials across the country are working to ascertain right now. But we all need to be vigilant and would continue to urge all of our citizens that if they see something, say something to the appropriate law enforcement authorities,” she said.
“While there is no known or immediate threat to the people of New Hampshire, the Department of Safety and New Hampshire Homeland Security and Emergency Management are working with federal and local public safety officials to exercise extra vigilance — and all Granite Staters are urged to remain vigilant as well,” Hassan continued.
This isn’t the first time Hassan and her staff have been unable to offer a specific answer on national security questions. Hassan was asked several times by reporters earlier this year whether she supported a pause in Syrian refugees entering the U.S. She did not provide an answer.
In another incident, CNN asked Hassan three times if she thought Hillary Clinton was trustworthy, Hassan later had to explain that she does think the Democratic presidential nominee was, in fact, trustworthy.
After Hassan’s answer on the latest terror attacks, Ayotte’s campaign jumped on the blunder as a source of political ammo.
“This is the latest example of Governor Hassan’s pattern of giving non-answers on critical national security and foreign policy matters, and it underscores the need for both of us to appear on stage together to debate these serious issues so voters know exactly where we stand,” Ayotte said in a statement.
Ayotte, who sits on the Senate Armed Services and Homeland Security committees, is making national security a cornerstone of her campaign. It’s one of the issues she has the most experience in, while Hassan is left to play catch up.
Hassan criticizes Ayotte for missing about half of her Homeland Security hearings as a way to diminish the Republican senator’s record on national security.
Ayotte has challenged Hassan to a foreign policy debate sponsored by the World Affairs Council of New Hampshire. Hassan declined, with one New Hampshire Democratic Party staffer even calling it a “sideshow.”
— Melissa Miller (@Meliss1001) September 12, 2016
“Foreign policy and national security are critical issues – especially with Senator Ayotte’s decision to put her political party before national security by supporting Donald Trump for Commander in Chief – and these issues should be a significant part of each debate,” said Aaron Jacobs, communications director for Hassan’s campaign in a statement responding to Ayotte’s call to add a seventh debate to their busy general election schedule.
“It’s also important to discuss other critical issues for New Hampshire families like the heroin and opioid crisis, college affordability and how to keep our economy moving forward,” he said. “And we expect those issues will be a part of each debate as well.”
The New Hampshire Union Leader published an editorial last week calling on Hassan to accept the debate.
“Hassan has no experience and little interest in foreign policy,” the editors wrote. “Hassan’s set the bar so low, if she is able to point to Russia on a map, she could declare victory.”
While Hassan has relatively little experience with national security, she has released a hawkish plan, which includes, “destroying ISIS, protecting the homeland, strengthening our military, confronting aggression, and maintaining America’s global leadership.”
As the November general election draws near, Hassan will have to prove herself a worthy opponent to Ayotte and hold her own when other national security issues come up.