WASHINGTON -- New Hampshire's U.S. Senate candidates Jeanne Shaheen and Scott Brown sparred in a fiery debate Thursday over national issues that included Ebola, the Islamic State and President Barack Obama's job performance.
The meeting, in Concord, New Hampshire, was the second televised debate and the third clash between incumbent Democrat Shaheen and her Republican rival Brown, a former senator from Massachusetts. Brown came out swinging from on the onset, responding to reports of a doctor's diagnosis with Ebola in New York with sharp criticism of the Obama administration's handling of the virus.
Brown said the doctor, who recently returned from West Africa, should have been quarantined upon arriving in the U.S. Shaheen, despite being pressed by moderator Wolf Blitzer of CNN, declined to say whether she believed the federal government should require quarantines on travelers from Ebola-stricken countries.
Brown continued to push for a travel ban, an idea Shaheen has tepidly embraced "if they work." Shaheen reiterated her support for screenings for sick travelers, which are already in place at some major U.S. airports, and criticized Brown for "fearmongering" on the issue.
"She calls it fearmongering, I call it rational fear," Brown retorted.
As he has in recent weeks, Brown tied Ebola to border security and defended his eyebrow-raising comments that the country would not be dealing with Ebola if Mitt Romney hadn't lost the 2012 presidential election.
Brown said his remarks, made last week in an interview with Fox News, were taken out of context. "Had [Romney] been president, I feel he would have had a clear and concise plan. He would have reassured the American people," Brown said.
Brown also has used his border security push when discussing the rise of ISIS. The administration's response to ISIS proved to be another contentious issue for Shaheen, as Brown knocked both the senator and the president, claiming they failed to take seriously the threat posed by the militant group.
"ISIS is the size of New England right now, and you and the president have taken ground troops off the table," Brown said. "Taking the greatest fighting force off the table is not what I would have done."
ISIS, he added, "is getting bigger and badder." To drive home his point, Brown cited former CIA director and defense secretary Leon Panetta's recent criticism of Obama's grasp of ISIS.
Shaheen once again accused Brown of "fearmongering" and said it was irresponsible for politicians "to repeat ISIS talking points."
"The threat of ISIS is real, but again we should not be fearmongering about the threat of ISIS," she said. "The fact is my opponent ran weeks of ads that said radical Islamic terrorists threaten to cause the collapse of America. Well, that's just not true. We have the strongest military in the world and we are not going to let ISIS or any other terrorist group cause the collapse of this country."
Never missing an opportunity to push the image of Brown as a carpetbagger, Shaheen remarked, "I was asking questions about ISIS before my opponent ever moved to New Hampshire."
On domestic issues, Shaheen appeared more comfortable defending the president's record. She touted her support for the Affordable Care Act and pushed back on Republican claims that she cast the deciding vote for the health care law in 2010.
"There were 60 of us. Every one of us was the deciding vote," Shaheen said, adding that Brown would take access to health care away from tens of thousands of people in New Hampshire.
Shaheen repeated her support for an increase in the federal minimum wage, an area where Brown stumbled.
"My first job was at Dunkin Donuts cleaning the grease trap. I still remember the smell," Brown said.
He noted his support for previous raises in the minimum wage, but said an increase now would be an example of the Obama administration telling businesses what to do.
The issue has followed Brown on the campaign trail, and each time it has arisen, he has similarly danced around it. The Associated Press reported in September that Brown said he did not believe the minimum wage should be raised at this time.
Working in Brown's favor has been Obama's record low approval ratings, particularly on matters of foreign policy. Shaheen, for her part, did not seem to regret voting with the president on most issues -- or, as Brown says, "99 percent of the time."
"I work and I vote for New Hampshire, that’s what I’ve always done … I'm proud of my record," Shaheen said.
HuffPost's Pollster average, which combines all publicly available polling, shows Shaheen leading Brown by just under 3 percentage points.
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