- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 15, 2010

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — The state of New Hampshire on Wednesday certified former state Attorney General Kelly Ayotte as the winner of the Republican primary for U.S. Senate, setting the stage for a possible recount.

Ms. Ayotte was endorsed by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and won a narrow victory over Ovide Lamontagne, whose conservative credentials and courting of the tea party pulled him close in the final days of the campaign.

Mr. Lamontagne has until 5 p.m. to decide whether he’ll seek a recount because the margin of victory fell within 1.5 percent of the total votes cast. The secretary of state’s office says Ms. Ayotte got 53,044 votes and Mr. Lamontagne 51,377 — a margin of 1,667 votes in a race with 138,908 total votes cast.

His campaign advisers have said he’s still considering whether to seek the recount. One could begin as early as 8 a.m. Thursday and could be done by Saturday, said David Scanlan, the deputy secretary of state.

The winner hopes to take retiring GOP Sen. Judd Gregg’s seat and face Democratic nominee Paul Hodes, who was unopposed.

Ms. Ayotte, 42, of Nashua, won the blessing from Mrs. Palin, who calls her a “Granite Grizzly.” Mrs. Ayotte spent more than $2 million on her anti-Democrat, anti-federal spending campaign. Mrs. Palin, the former vice presidential nominee, recorded telephone messages to voters that started Sunday, praising Mrs. Ayotte as “the true conservative” — a mantle Mr. Lamontagne had tried to claim as his throughout his campaign.

Mr. Lamontagne’s two previous election bids were unsuccessful. His late surge was similar to his victory over former U.S. Rep. Bill Zeliff for the 1996 GOP gubernatorial nomination, but Democratic U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen beat him to capture the first of her three two-year terms as governor. Mr. Lamontagne failed in a GOP primary bid in 1992 to unseat Mr. Zeliff in the 1st District.

Mr. Lamontagne closed fast in the final days of the race, despite spending only $400,000. Mr. Lamontagne, 52, counted on conservative groups, not money, to win the nomination.

“It’s not how much money you have; it’s the message,” Mr. Lamontagne said Tuesday night.

The Republicans spent more than $9.5 million for the chance to face Mr. Hodes, 59, of Concord. Despite being unopposed, Mr. Hodes spent $2.5 million to line up support to try to win the seat. The spending totals will rise after final primary campaign finance reports are filed with the Federal Elections Commission.

Multimillionaire businessman Bill Binnie, who spent more than $5 million out of his own pocket pushing his jobs agenda, received 19,503 votes, and conceded along with millionaire businessman Jim Bender, who got 12,609 votes.

Mr. Hodes said Tuesday night that the Republican agenda is “extreme, radical and right wing.” He said Republicans would take the country backward into the hole from which the nation is struggling to dig out.

“I’m running for the people of New Hampshire. I don’t have to run against anyone,” Mr. Hodes said.

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