- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 2, 2016

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - New Hampshire’s Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte on Wednesday turned a debate question about cyber attacks into one of her most aggressive critiques of her Democratic challenger, Gov. Maggie Hassan.

During a one-hour televised debate on WMUR-TV, Ayotte didn’t directly answer a question about whether Russia has succeeded in trying to influence U.S. elections. Instead, she said the real cyber security issue is Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while serving as secretary of state.

“You want to talk about cyber security?” she said. “She set up a private server transferring classified information.”

Then, about Hassan, she said, “If she’s not going to break with Hillary Clinton on this, when is she ever going to break with Hillary Clinton?”

Hassan has said Clinton’s use of the email server was a mistake. She accused Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump of inviting Russia to attack the U.S. election system and called Ayotte’s pas support for him troubling.

“It is concerning to me that the Republican nominee … has showered praise on (Russian President) Vladimir Putin, and in some ways invited him to make an attack of some sorts on our electoral system,” Hassan said. “That’s one of the reasons I’m so concerned that Sen. Ayotte spent so much time supporting her nominee.”

Ayotte and Hassan are in a tight race that will help determine control of the Senate, and Hassan has frequently made Ayotte’s former support for Trump an issue. After months of saying she supported him but wouldn’t endorse him, Ayotte said last month that on Election Day she’ll write in GOP vice presidential nominee Mike Pence instead. That followed the release of recordings from 2005 in which Trump boasted about using his fame to force himself on women.

Asked about those Trump’s comments earlier Wednesday, Ayotte told a WNTK radio host that she wouldn’t want her 12-year-old daughter in a room with either Trump or former President Bill Clinton.

During the debate, both Ayotte and Hassan accused the other of embracing gridlock over progress. Hassan criticized Ayotte for helping block a vote on President Barack Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court, voting to defund Planned Parenthood and other measures she said would have helped New Hampshire.

“Sen. Ayotte and her party decided to bring gridlock - as they have to their work in Congress - to the court,” Hassan said. “She has been highly partisan, and she has stood with her party and its backers at very critical times where she could’ve broken with them and really helped people and small businesses in New Hampshire.”

Ayotte said she blocked the court vote because she wanted to give voters a say by electing a new president. She repeated her criticism of Hassan’s handling of the latest state budget. Hassan has said she vetoed the budget because the numbers didn’t add up but backed the version that eventually passed because it included important financial safeguards.

“You want to talk gridlock? It’s vetoing a biartisan budget because there’s a reduction for business taxes and then both parties overriding your veto,” Ayotte said.

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