DERRY, N.H. — Tying a major theme of his New Hampshire US Senate campaign to tumult around the world, Republican Scott Brown held a foreign policy-focused town hall meeting Monday and blasted incumbent Democrat Jeanne Shaheen as being a lock-step vote for President Obama.
Joined by US Senator John McCain, Brown emphasized what he said was his independence and criticized the president’s “incoherent” foreign policy, as conflicts rage from Iraq to Israel.
He said America’s allies do not trust us, and our foes do not fear or respect us. Brown declared that the country was in trouble and needs good leadership.
“We have, right now, a senator who votes 99 percent of the time with him, as a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, rubber-stamping those failed policies,” he said referring to Shaheen, whom he is vying to unseat.
The emphasis on national and international issues appears to be a concerted effort by Brown to nationalize a race in a state where polls have found Obama is not popular.
Framing Shaheen as an Obama clone and Brown as an independent-thinking free agent has been a main message of the former Massachusetts senator’s Granite State bid. He stated it repeatedly at his campaign kickoff in Portsmouth in April, and it was a major part of a rally with former governor Mitt Romney in July.
Shaheen, for her part, has emphasized specific local accomplishments during her time as US senator and governor in her television ads and in local appearances around New Hampshire, .
That message came through in a statement Monday from her campaign spokesman, Harrell Kirstein.
“Jeanne Shaheen’s record and work are about making a difference for New Hampshire,” he said. “Recently that has meant helping New Hampshire veterans get health care close to home for the first time. In the few months since Scott Brown moved to New Hampshire after his defeat in Massachusetts, he has run a negative campaign of misleading attacks.”
At the town hall meeting in Derry, questions veered from foreign affairs. The audience, which the campaign pegged at 200, inquired about topics such as Social Security, energy policy, and veterans’ issues, which Brown and McCain answered capably and, occasionally, with humor.
Near the end of the session, Brown offered a passionate soliloquy on bipartisanship, hammering home, again, the message that he would not be one of the “rubber stamps” of the Senate, that he would be a problem solver.
Still, he said, a way to help get things done in Washington would be to vote for Republicans to take over the Senate and serve as a check on Obama.
Republicans must pick up a net of six seats in the midterm elections to gain control of the chamber.
Brown also told the Town Hall audience that he is open and accessible.
“Do I know everything? No, I don’t. My wife does, but I don’t,” he said, as the crowd chuckled. “I’m a good learner and I’m a good listener and my door is always open.”
The event was Brown’s third town hall meeting in the last few weeks, and he has criticized Shaheen for not holding one during this campaign season.
McCain, a veteran of countless town hall meetings and the winner of the 2000 and 2008 New Hampshire GOP presidential primaries, repeatedly professed his love of all things New Hampshire.
“It is with great nostalgia that I come back again to my second-favorite state,” McCain, Republican of Arizona, said at the forum in a high school auditorium.
Both McCain and Brown were at ease with the format, and the audience seemed largely predisposed toward both politicians. Many questions began with expressions of appreciation for one or both.
During the event, which stretched for more than an hour, McCain spoke about the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the militant group that has taken control of significant portions of those countries. He said the group is “the largest center of terrorism in history” and a “direct threat” to the United States and called for increasing military pressure on it.
Brown said, “ISIS makes Al Qaeda look like Boy Scouts.”
Both also offered strong support for Israel, where a cease-fire was reportedly holding Monday morning after a monthlong confrontation with Hamas.
The audience had particular warmth for McCain, with at least one person saying she had seen him many times before.
McCain “owns New Hampshire,” Cathie Chevalier, 63 of Hudson, said after the event. “We elected him president, I don’t care what the rest of the country did.”
After the town hall meeting, McCain greeted voters and answered reporters’ questions; Brown was nowhere to be found. His campaign said he had to go to another event. He faces a Sept. 9 GOP primary, but is expected to be his party’s nominee and to face Shaheen in November.
As much as the town hall meeting was a question-and-answer session with voters, it was also a media event. There were at least 12 video cameras present and as many reporters. Two trackers, or camera-wielding operatives, from Democratic-aligned groups were also at the forum.
As the town hall meetingwas under way, Shaheen held a “women’s economic agenda discussion” with US Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota, in a bit of counter-programming.Joshua Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jm_bos.