FILE - This photo combo shows incumbent U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster, D-N.H., left, and Republican challenger Steve Negron, right, candidates in New Hampshire's 2nd Congressional District in Nov. 3, 2020, general election. (AP Photos, file)

The coronavirus pandemic and how New Hampshire communities have responded dominated a debate Thursday night between Democratic Rep. Annie Kuster and her Republican challenger Steve Negron.

Kuster credited the state's low case numbers relative to other states to the way most residents wore masks, social distanced and followed the science. She said the key going forward will be expanded testing, contact tracing and getting a vaccine.

“Of course, we want to get back to work. Of course, we want to back to school. But we have to follow the science,” Kuster said.

Negron, in contrast, criticized limitations put in place as case numbers rose and suggested a spike in mental health problems was the result. He also said that students should be going back to school and that the protection measures going forward should be limited to the most vulnerable citizen. He also wouldn't commit to taking a vaccine once it is approved.

“Granite Staters want to get out of their homes. Granite Staters want to get back to their normal lives,” Negron said. “Kids want go back to school. ... I think there are people out there who have shown they can actually survive this pandemic. Let's protect those who are most vulnerable and, for the rest of us, let's try and get back onto our lives the way they were prior to the pandemic.”

The two also clashed over how best to provide additional COVID-19 relief, with each candidate reflecting the views of their party.

Democratic priorities include another $1,200 direct payment to most Americans, restart bonus unemployment benefits, fund additional testing and vaccines, provide aid to schools and allocate money to states and local governments.

“If we don't come together and pass this bill, that is going to be a tremendous hole in our state budget come January when the legislature reconvenes,” Kuster said, adding that the state and local governments are looking to recover $800 million in lost revenue due to the virus.

Negron accused the Democratic leadership of packing their bill with a bunch of items unrelated to the coronavirus. He said lawmakers should draw up a bill focused on extending the Treasury Department’s Paycheck Protection Program and unemployment benefits and then vote on it.

“If the congresswoman wanted to help New Hampshire, then she should go to Speaker Pelosi and talk about PPP right now. Let's get this done. We could have it in bank accounts next week,” he said. “But that is not the case.”

The two also clashed over President Donald Trump's refusal to release his tax returns and how much he pays in taxes. The New York Times has reported that Trump paid just $750 in federal income taxes the year he ran for president and in his first year in the White House.

“I absolutely believe that a person with that kind of wealth should be paying taxes and we need the IRS to have the oversight and strengthen their implementation of our tax code,” she said. “He is cheating you as the taxpayer, and I think it's unconscionable and he should be voted out Nov. 3.”

Negron said the tax code should be looked at but said Democrats of using Trump's tax returns as another attack line against the president.

“When you look at the Constitution and you look at what the requirements are to run for president and, I've looked a couple of times, I got to tell you I haven't seen anything in there about tax returns,” he said. “It isn't about tax returns. It's about another divisive opportunity to go after this president, to make sure that he is doing something illegal."

The two also offered contrasting views on climate change, gun control and immigration. Some of their starkest differences came over family separation along the Mexican border, which Kuster called “pure evil."

“This is not Christian. It is not American,” said Kuster, who twice visited the border with Mexico. “This not the American way. We should have a pathway to citizenship. We should have compassionate laws.”

Negron, whose grandfather came to United States from Mexico, seemed to suggest those being separated were unrelated.

“We now know with lots of empirical data that a lot of these smugglers and a lot of these people that are bringing kids in across the country, they're not their children," he said, adding the children were being used “as pawns" to help others get into the country.


This story has been corrected to show The Associated Press erroneously reported that Republican candidate Steve Negron said that children separated at the border are related to the adults who brought them into the country. He said they are unrelated to those they have been separated from.