“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”
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