By Nick Stoico, Executive Editor
CONCORD — Before the cameras went live Tuesday evening at the Capitol Center For The Arts, the venue for the first televised debate between Senate candidates Jeanne Shaheen and Scott Brown, NBC News Political Director and Debate Moderator Chuck Todd asked just one thing of the audience: silence.
Todd’s request was fulfilled … for most of the evening.
Shaheen, the Democratic incumbent, and Brown, the Republican candidate who formerly served as a senator from Massachusetts before losing his seat to Democrat Elizabeth Warren in 2012, kept the discussion tame for the majority of the program before setting off into fierce debate in the later portion.
The debate was broadcasted by New England Cable News and co-sponsored by the Concord Monitor and the University of New Hampshire.
And as the debate heated up, the audience responded with applause and cheers, as well as a few scarce jeers, and all Todd could do was wave his hand, trying to pacify the fervent New Hampshire constituents that filled the concert hall.
The audience’s response reflected the aggressive sparring that grew on the stage between the two candidates. By the end of the evening, a question offered by Shaheen in the second half of the hour-long debate encompassed what New Hampshire voters will ask themselves when they head to the polls on Nov. 4.
Who do you trust?
Shaheen stressed Brown’s recent jump from Massachusetts to New Hampshire, painting him as a self-interested politician more focused on his political prestige. She described his path from Massachusetts to a stop in Iowa, where he dropped the idea that he may make a presidential bid, before moving on to New Hampshire.
“I don’t think New Hampshire is a consolation prize. We need a senator who is going to put New Hampshire first,” Shaheen said, echoing her campaign’s motto for the cycle.
Brown, a resident of Rye, sidestepped the remarks.
“I am running because I care about New Hampshire,” Brown said.
Brown took advantage of President Barack Obama’s unpopularity in the state and continued to tie Shaheen to the president, a method he has relentlessly utilized in his campaign’s television spots. It is a method that has been adopted by many Republicans across the nation, and Brown continues to flaunt Shaheen’s record of voting with the president 99 percent of the time.
“Everyone was excited about Senator Shaheen being the independent voice,” Brown said, alluding to the senator’s election in 2008. “She wasn’t. … It’s time for a new direction.”
Another hot topic in the discussion Todd presented concerned border control and immigration reform. This was one particular area of the debate where the two candidates stood on opposite sides.
Shaheen supported the bipartisan immigration reform bill that passed through the senate, which would grant undocumented immigrants inside U.S. borders a legal path to citizenship.
When asked at what point Brown would consider the border to be secure, the former Massachusetts senator responded, “You know when it’s secure when people don’t come across it.”
While Todd handled the questions based around national issues, a panel of local political voices handled issues relating to New Hampshire. The panel included NECN political reporter Alison King, Concord Monitor political reporter Allie Morris and UNH political science professor Dante Scala.
Scala brought up the topic of medical marijuana and the decriminalization of marijuana in the state. Shaheen said she supports the legal use of medicinal marijuana, but is not “ready to go there yet,” referring to the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington.
Shaheen said she supports the federal government playing a role in the regulation of marijuana laws and said the greater drug-related problem in the state is the spike in deaths by heroin overdose.
Brown agreed with Shaheen and said he would not support legalization in the Granite State.
Towards the end of the debate, Todd opened the lightning round with questions warranting quick answers. Both candidates’ responses to the first question were met with applause as Todd asked what would be the first piece of legislation they would propose if they had the opportunity.
“It’s to allow students to refinance their student loans,” Shaheen said, touching on a popular topic that Warren is well known for supporting. (Warren will visit UNH with Shaheen on Saturday at Huddleston Hall at 10:30 a.m.)
Brown’s response was also answered with applause.
“It would be to do a budget,” Brown said. “We haven’t done a budget, and any budget they’ve done is on the backs of veterans.”