The rematch between Republican Congressman Charles Bass and Democratic challenger Ann McLane Kuster could swing on who voters believe will get along better with the opposing party.
“She would be the most hyper-partisan Democrat in the entire Congress and would be unable to work with a single Republican,” Bass said.
“To me, the votes he took twice on the (Paul) Ryan budget, in addition to numerous votes with Speaker Boehner and the Tea Party leadership, are indicative that he is really go along, get along when it comes to his role with Republican leadership,” Kuster said.
Bass, 60, a seven-term Congressman, narrowly defeated Kuster, 56, two years ago to return to Congress in New Hampshire’s 2nd District after an absence of four years.
They are scions of Granite State political dynasties, both with family reputations for occupying the political middleground.
Bass is endorsed by conservative Republican former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson and Democratic former Clinton White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles, who together headed President Obama’s deficit reduction panel.
He recently received an “economic patriot” award from The Concord Coalition, a nonpartisan group founded by former Sens. Warren Rudman and Paul Tsongas that advocates for responsible fiscal policy.
“I have the interests of the country at stake,” Bass said. “It’s not going to be the Republican way or the Democratic way. It’s going to be the American way.”
Kuster is a law partner of Republican activist Tom Rath and traveled the Statehouse corridors working with legislators of both parties to establish the state’s UNIQUE college saving plan. She shares a hairdresser with Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte and said she would support Ayotte’s effort to protect New Hampshire businesses from the burden of collecting sales taxes for other states.
“I don’t care if an idea is Republican or Democratic,” Kuster said. “My test will be is this an idea that is good for the people of New Hampshire.”
Bass isn’t accepting her criticism or buying the idea of Kuster as the representative in the middle.
“She’s been a longtime, bold progressive liberal advocate for broadbased taxes in New Hampshire,” Bass said. “She’s well known for her slant, which is, in essence, bigger government, higher taxes and more spending.”
Kuster’s answer to the nation’s challenges is to raise taxes, he said.
“Frankly, I think the American people and a majority of voters in this district have a somewhat different view than that,” he said.
Bass maintains this race would be easier for him if he hadn’t supported a bipartisan budget based on Simpson-Bowles recommendations that put spending reductions and entitlements on the table. He reasons tax increases are unnecessary because tax reforms can bring in revenue.
“I’m not beholden to any group,” Bass said.
What he wants, he said, is a mandate from voters to get the debt and deficit under control to turn the economy around and create jobs.
“Here’s the point: 38 votes,” Kuster said of Bass’s bipartisan budget plan before he fell in line with the Ryan budget. “He’s not bringing anyone with him to the table.”
Kuster counters that she doesn’t want more taxes, rather prefers a leaner, efficient government and embraces public-private partnerships.
“I believe it’s the private sector that creates jobs,” she said. “But I also know and believe that it’s the public sector that creates the environment for job creation.”
Kuster would turn the economy around with a focus on policies that encourage innovation and invest in education and infrastructure. The Ryan budget Bass supported would undermine those efforts, plus hurt seniors through Medicare reforms introducing a voucher component, she said.
“It’s not going to work,” she said. “Those people don’t have that money.”
Bass said the Medicare reforms of the Ryan budget are necessary for the program to survive. They don’t mandate participation in the voucher program, he said, and only set that up as an option. He predicts it will work as drug benefit reforms did and lower costs for seniors.
“The bottom line is the Republican budget preserves the integrity of Medicare indefinitely,” he said.
Bass said he is pro choice, opposes amending the Constitution to ban same-sex marriage, and would work for clean air and water. He is working on energy, telecommunication and breast cancer prevention legislation. But economic recovery, the budget, the debt and deficit are at the top of his agenda.
“Those are the big priorities for me,” Bass said.
For Kuster, it’s mainly about jobs.
“Creating good jobs in New Hampshire is number one,” Kuster said.
She would close tax loopholes that encourage companies to send the workforce offshore and instead provide incentives to create jobs in America.
“We need money in the economy so that people who hire should have preferential tax treatment,” Kuster said.
For that reason, she concedes, Mitt Romney has a good idea with capital gains reform aimed at helping small business. She also said she would support Ohio Sen. Rob Portman’s effort to reduce business regulation.
Kuster wants to go to Washington as a voice for the majority of the district, she said.
“It’s to be a moderate voice for middle class families, seniors, veterans, jobs and then bringing the cost of health care down,” Kuster said.
While the rivals have their differences, they have found common ground on the need for consensus in Washington.
“Every event I have, voters say, ‘How can you break the gridlock in Washington?’” Kuster said. “This Congress is broken. It’s dysfunctional.”
“This country will not survive if we define victory as a fight, rather than an accomplishment,” Bass said.