Has Kelly Ayotte done what she needs to do to win in 2016?
Illustration by Peter Noonan
By the time you read this, you it will either be right before the November 4th elections or right after. You will have a better sense of who will win or has won or lost these elections than I do writing this column in September.
But I can already declare one thing about the midterm elections in New Hampshire to be true: Republican US Sen. Kelly Ayotte lost.
The day after the November election, Ayotte begins the toughest political contest of her life. Despite the face she is the toast of Washington, viewed as a rising Republican star, a potential vice presidential pick and a foreign policy talking head, local Republicans privately say they are very worried about her even getting re-elected.
Nothing about the 2016 election year points to a Republican wave year like the one that she coasted in on in 2010. It will likely feature a tough opponent like Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan and it will be a presidential election year, which has favored Democrats locally. Picturing Hillary Clinton on the ballot, with her family’s special relationship to the state, raises the question of whether Ayotte should even be considered favored to win at all.
The 2014 elections gave Ayotte a chance to change the chessboard. Her role as the single default leader of the state Republican Party empowered her to recruit candidates that could do damage to potential opponents, like Hassan.
But Ayotte was not actively involved in finding an opponent to even bruise Hassan. In fact, no major Republican opponent emerged until the spring and she didn’t even officially endorse him until September.
She did not help her longtime friends, either. One of her Nashua friends, a major donor, ran for Executive Council and she didn’t do anything for him. Nor did she do much of anything in return for those who helped her create a coup on a state Republican Chair.
On her watch her party is becoming more conservative, a trend which could hurt her as she seeks the votes of moderate independent voters. Her party has strengthened its platform on abortion and its language on same sex marriage. Both Republican nominees to Congress come out of the Tea Party, and Bill O’Brien, a political lightning rod, appears poised to win back his post as speaker of the NH House of Representative.
If there were any area where Ayotte was involved, it was with Scott Brown. She helped convince him to run and appeared in a television ad for him. However, she has held almost as many public events with Shaheen this election year as with Brown — a point Team Brown is mad about, but cannot complain about.
In short, Ayotte is worse off for re-election that she was two years ago.