“It’s not like Passover, where the vot­ers say, ‘Oh, th­ese are the good Repub­li­cans that we’re meant to spare.’ They kill them all”

Repub­li­cans need Sen­a­tor Kelly Ay­otte to keep her seat, no mat­ter who wins the nom­i­na­tion “It’s just easy to paint a pic­ture that she’s one of them, of that ex­treme right wing”

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New Hamp­shirites take their role as the first vot­ers in any pres­i­den­tial pri­mary very, very se­ri­ously. At a party spon­sored by the state GOP to watch the Jan. 28 Repub­li­can de­bate, at­ten­dees marked the 100th an­niver­sary of New Hamp­shire’s pri­mary with a red, white, and blue sheet cake em­bla­zoned with the words “Cel­e­brat­ing FITN”—Twit­ter par­lance for “first in the na­tion.” Cam­paign vol­un­teers, party of­fi­cials, and politi­cians snacked on brie-and-rasp­berry phyllo tri­an­gles while lo­cal sur­ro­gates made pitches for their can­di­dates.

They also had their pick of free but­tons, signs, and bumper stickers for Kelly Ay­otte, the state’s first­term U.S. sen­a­tor, who is run­ning for re­elec­tion in Novem­ber. In 2010, amid a na­tional Repub­li­can wave, she beat her Demo­cratic op­po­nent by 23 points, even as New Hamp­shire re­elected Demo­crat John Lynch to the gov­er­nor’s man­sion. This year, Ay­otte, a fis­cal con­ser­va­tive who has reached across party lines to co­op­er­ate with Democrats, is cru­cial to the GOP’s hope of hold­ing on to its four-per­son Se­nate ma­jor­ity.

“I like her very much,” said Raul Cer­vantes, a reg­u­lar vol­un­teer for Repub­li­can cam­paigns who is sup­port­ing John Ka­sich. Cer­vantes, a Mex­i­can-born handy­man who won the evening’s tax-re­form-themed bingo game, had less kind words for Don­ald Trump: “That’s not the way to run the coun­try, as an an­gry per­son.”

Therein lies Ay­otte’s prob­lem. To win in Novem­ber, the ju­nior sen­a­tor will have to at­tract con­ser­va­tive, anti­estab­lish­ment Repub­li­cans to her cause while hold­ing on to mod­er­ates like Cer­vantes who are turned off by Trump and Ted Cruz, who won the Iowa cau­cus. “It’s not like Passover, where the vot­ers say, ‘Oh, th­ese are the good Repub­li­cans that we’re meant to spare,’ ” says Fer­gus Cullen, a for­mer state GOP chair­man from 2007 to 2008, who re­cently en­dorsed Ka­sich. “They kill them all.”

At least 9 of the 34 Se­nate seats up for elec­tion in Novem­ber are likely to be com­pet­i­tive. Six are held by Repub­li­cans in states Obama won in 2012, in­clud­ing Florida, Illinois, and New Hamp­shire, a once solidly red state that’s been trend­ing in­creas­ingly Demo­cratic. Ay­otte is ex­pected to face the state’s cur­rent Demo­cratic gov­er­nor, Mag­gie Has­san, who was re­elected in 2014 by five points. “There’s not much mar­gin for er­ror for ei­ther cam­paign,” says Andy Smith, di­rec­tor of the Univer­sity of New Hamp­shire’s Sur­vey Cen­ter.

Un­sur­pris­ingly, Has­san sup­port­ers see a Trump or Cruz nom­i­na­tion as a dream come true. “It’s just easy to paint a pic­ture that she’s one of them, of that ex­treme right wing of the Repub­li­can Party, which is tak­ing con­trol of the Repub­li­can Party,” says Has­san cam­paign trea­surer Kathy Sul­li­van, a for­mer state party chair. “We should be that lucky.”

When Ay­otte ran for Se­nate in 2010, she was a widely liked state at­tor­ney gen­eral who’d been ap­pointed by a Repub­li­can gov­er­nor and reap­pointed by a Demo­crat. She racked up en­dorse­ments from John McCain and Sarah Palin. In of­fice, she’s joined most of her fel­low Repub­li­cans in vot­ing against a 2013 gun con­trol bill, against fund­ing Planned Par­ent­hood, and in fa­vor of phas­ing out Med­i­caid ex­pan­sion un­der the Af­ford­able Care Act. But she’s sided with Democrats in sup­port­ing com­pre­hen­sive im­mi­gra­tion re­form and the En­vi­ron­men­tal

Pro­tec­tion Agency’s Clean

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