Smith, Lamontagne Spar in First Debate
They are running for the GOP nomination for governor.
Republican candidates for governor Ovide Lamontagne and Kevin Smith exchanged light jabs during their first debate in Manchester Wednesday night.
Lamontagne, who ran an unsuccessful bid for governor in 1996 and nearly beat U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte in the 2010 Primary race, argued he's the better choice because he can reach across and work with the huge portion of undeclared voters in the state to get things done.
Smith, the former head of the conservative advocacy group Cornerstone, said he wants to foster a better business environment in New Hampshire so more residents can work in the state instead of commuting to places like Massachusetts.
"I aim to be (Mass. Gov.) Deval Patrick's worst nightmare," Smith told a crowd of about 500 energized Republicans gathered at a downtown Manchester hotel.
The debate was moderated by House Speaker William O'Brien and Alex Talcott, a member of the New Hampshire Young Republicans.
The governor's race is wide open, with no clear favorite, according to a Rasmussen poll last month. On the Democratic side, top candidates Maggie Hassan, a former state senator from Exeter, and Jackie Cilley, a former state senator from Barrington, are battling each other. The state primary is Sept. 11.
Lamontagne said he would spend his first day in office mandating department heads pursue "zero-based" budgets to save money.
Smith disagreed, saying it's difficult to do that.
Smith said wants to focus on getting a "Right-to-Work" bill passed that would strip unions of some of their power. He added he's long been devoted to that cause.
"I voted for Right-to-Work before it was cool to vote for Right-to-Work," he said.
The pair did agree on one thing – battling what they said was a Democratic view that Republicans don't care about the poor and disadvantaged.
"We do care," Smith said.
Lamontagne agreed. He spoke about his love for his disabled foster son, James.
The next debate is scheduled for Thursday at noon. It will be hosted by WMUR-TV.