NH Dem takes hit for bucking party on refugees

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Gov. Maggie Hassan has prompted strong rebukes from Democratic grassroots groups over her call for a pause in Syrian refugee resettlement following last week’s Paris attacks. 

In a tight race to unseat Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte, the New Hampshire Democrat was the only Democrat among more than half of the nation’s governors who spoke out this week against the Obama administration’s continuing plans to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees in the U.S. 

{mosads}“As the governor of New Hampshire, my first and foremost responsibility is to protect the safety and security of our citizens,” she wrote in the op-ed in the New Hampshire Union Leader. 

“That is why I have called for the federal government to temporarily halt acceptance of refugees from Syria until intelligence and defense officials can assure that the process for vetting all refugees is as strong as possible to ensure public safety.” 

That has drawn the ire of a handful of Democratic groups that warn the move could dissuade its members from coming to her defense.

“Given what we’re hearing from our members both in New Hampshire and outside the state about Republican’s fact-less fear-mongering on refugees, I have every reason to believe that Hassan’s disappointing position has already hurt her standing with grassroots Democrats,” Democracy for America spokesman Neil Sroka said in an email to The Hill. 

“As a member driven organization, I have no doubt that this is something DFA members will make sure we keep in mind as we consider our involvement in her race down the road,” he said. 

Ilya Sheyman, executive director of Political Action, said in a statement, “It is incredibly disappointing to see Democratic Governor and Senate candidate Maggie Hassan join with her far right-wing Republican counterparts in threatening to refuse entry for Syrian refugees to her state. When politicians use fear or racism to win elections, we should condemn that action—not reward it.” 

Early polling shows Hassan and Ayotte neck and neck—an October poll by Public Policy Polling had Hassan leading by 1 point, while a September WMUR/University of New Hampshire poll showed Ayotte with a 2 point lead.  

A New Hampshire Democrat supporting Hassan played down those concerns and argued that most New Hampshire voters are comfortable with Hassan’s measured stance. 

“The vast majority of people who have seen the op-ed and heard her full position have appreciated it,” the supporter said.

“There are certainly people who, I’m sure, will not be brought along by the op-ed. But in terms of the people on the ground that I’ve heard from, it does seem like a lot of them do take a different approach after they’ve heard her full position.” 

The supporter added that Hassan is in a unique position as the only governor running for Senate, so she has a responsibility to her constituents first. 

Hassan received some cover Thursday when Rep. Ann McLane Kuster (D-N.H.) backed the House bill to strengthen screening requirements on refugees, which leaves Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D) as the only major Democrat in the state fully supporting the administration’s plans. 

The governor’s position also prompted gloating from national Republican groups such as super-Pac America Rising, which posted an online attack accusing Hassan of “walking back her tough talk” after “facing blowback from fellow Democrats.” 

But in this key battleground in the fight for control of the Senate, Hassan isn’t the only one who has had to buck her party’s stances. 

Ayotte, fighting Hassan to hold onto her seat, has garnered criticism from her base for working across the aisle. Most recently, she came out in favor of President Obama’s signature climate change rule to the distaste of many in her base. 

Unlike Hassan, who has so far only been met with verbal threats of losing Democratic voter support, criticism of Ayotte has boiled over into talks of a primary challenge or even a libertarian third-party challenge, which would likely sink her. 

But the tightness of the race is creating tough choices for both candidates. 

“There’s some real jockeying going on about how far from their home base both candidates can run, not to lose much on their side and gain some on the other side,” Republican State Sen. Andy Sanborn (R-N.H.) told The Hill. 

“They are doing so at the absolute risk of losing supporters that have traditionally been their base.” 

Tags Jeanne Shaheen Kelly Ayotte

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