Trump sets up Ay­otte for tight Sen­ate race in New Hamp­shire

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY TOM HOW­ELL JR.

For years, Sen. Kelly Ay­otte cast her­self as a free-think­ing voice for New Hamp­shire, chastis­ing Repub­li­can fire­brands who hur­tled into the 2013 govern­ment shut­down with­out a clear es­cape plan while sup­port­ing con­ser­va­tive bids to de­fund Planned Par­ent­hood over its abor­tion prac­tice.

She served as New Hamp­shire’s ap­pointed at­tor­ney gen­eral un­der Repub­li­can and Demo­cratic gov­er­nors and crossed party lines to sup­port in­creased spend­ing for opi­oid abuse.

The Repub­li­can se­na­tor will find out in Novem­ber whether her in­de­pen­dent streak is strong enough for vot­ers as she faces off against Gov. Mag­gie Has­san, a Demo­crat, and against head­winds of Don­ald Trump’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.

Mr. Trump trails Demo­cratic nom­i­nee Hil­lary Clin­ton by an av­er­age of 9 per­cent­age points in the state in the Real Clear Pol­i­tics poll roundup, but Mrs. Ay­otte is run­ning neck and neck with Mrs. Has­san in a race that pits two well-known fe­male lead­ers against each other.

“I think any­one who tries to pre­dict what’s go­ing to hap­pen in this one is bet­ter off buy­ing a Power­ball ticket,” said Neil Levesque, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the New Hamp­shire In­sti­tute of Pol­i­tics and Po­lit­i­cal Li­brary at St. Anselm Col­lege.

In­deed, it is widely considered the most evenly matched Sen­ate con­test in a tur­bu­lent elec­tion cy­cle with Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clin­ton at the top of the ticket.

“Ay­otte ap­pears to be run­ning ahead of Trump in New Hamp­shire, but Trump is fairly far be­hind, which could drag Ay­otte down,” said po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst Kyle Kondik, man­ag­ing ed­i­tor of Sa­bato’s Crys­tal Ball at the Uni­ver­sity of Vir­ginia. “Right now I’d rather be Has­san than Ay­otte, and the only rea­son for that is the pres­i­den­tial race. We’re in an era where pres­i­den­tial re­sults typ­i­cally have a large im­pact down the bal­lot, and we’re see­ing that in New Hamp­shire even though Ay­otte has some crossover ap­peal.”

The Trump fac­tor has been a near-con­stant thorn for down-bal­lot Repub­li­cans, though some have been able to es­cape the pres­i­den­tial con­tender’s pull.

In Ohio, where Mr. Trump is polling slightly be­hind Mrs. Clin­ton, Repub­li­can Sen. Rob Port­man has man­aged to put a good bit of day­light be­tween him­self and his Demo­cratic ri­val, for­mer Gov. Ted Strick­land.

In Penn­syl­va­nia, polling shows Mrs. Clin­ton lead­ing by high sin­gle dig­its, while Repub­li­can Sen. Patrick J. Toomey is run­ning about even with his Demo­cratic chal­lenger, Katie McGinty.

“Ay­otte is sort of in the mid­dle at the mo­ment,” said Jen­nifer Duffy, an ed­i­tor at The Cook Po­lit­i­cal Report. “Port­man ap­pears to have es­caped the Trump drag, while Toomey is get­ting pulled un­der by it. The jury is out on how Trump will im­pact Ay­otte.”

Mrs. Ay­otte has kept Mr. Trump at arm’s length. She chided him for spar­ring with the Mus­lim par­ents of a fallen U.S. solider and has with­held her en­dorse­ment, even though she plans to vote for the Repub­li­can.

The Demo­cratic Se­na­to­rial Cam­paign Com­mit­tee says Mrs. Ay­otte’s “con­tin­ued sup­port for Don­ald Trump and his of­fen­sive and in­ap­pro­pri­ate com­ments on women don’t fare well with New Hamp­shire vot­ers.”

In­deed, Democrats have re­cruited fe­male chal­lengers in seven com­pet­i­tive Sen­ate races this cy­cle, a dy­namic that syncs with Mrs. Clin­ton’s his­toric run.

The Has­san camp says it will win over women on the is­sues alone. The cam­paign points to Mrs. Ay­otte’s vote to shift fed­eral funds from Planned Par­ent­hood to com­mu­nity health care cen­ters and de­cries her bill to pro­vide over-the-counter birth con­trol as a “sham” de­signed to cir­cum­vent Oba­macare’s con­tra­cep­tion man­date on employers.

“While Gov. Mag­gie Has­san has al­ways fought to pro­tect a woman’s right to make her own health care de­ci­sions and to ex­pand eco­nomic op­por­tu­nity for women, Sen. Kelly Ay­otte has con­sis­tently worked to un­der­mine ac­cess to women’s health care and has voted against the eco­nomic in­ter­ests of New Hamp­shire women and fam­i­lies,” Has­san spokes­woman Meira Bernstein said.

Po­lit­i­cal an­a­lysts note that women have tended to vote more Demo­cratic than men since the Rea­gan era, no mat­ter the race or gen­der of the can­di­dates, so this race likely will be won by who­ever can sway un­af­fil­i­ated vot­ers who make up a plu­ral­ity in New Hamp­shire.

The Ay­otte cam­paign sees an open­ing, not­ing that the in­cum­bent has been able to stay com­pet­i­tive de­spite a string of Demo­cratic at­tack ads ty­ing the se­na­tor to Mr. Trump.

“Vot­ers know that Kelly isn’t shy about call­ing out any­one, Repub­li­can or Demo­crat, about any­thing that’s not in New Hamp­shire’s best interest,” Ay­otte cam­paign spokes­woman Liz John­son said.

They also ar­gue that Mrs. Has­san’s pair­ing with Mrs. Clin­ton isn’t work­ing as planned.


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