- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Sen. Kelly Ayotte has name recognition, a statewide campaign organization and incumbency — yet she’s still facing an uphill battle to keep her seat, according to campaign analysts who say the outcome of New Hampshire’s Senate election will likely depend on whoever wins the state in the battle for the White House.

The freshman senator, who won in the tea party wave election of 2010, is facing a challenge from sitting Gov. Maggie Hassan, who like Mrs. Ayotte has name recognition and successful statewide campaigns under her belt.

But in a small state where so much of the conversation is dominated by presidential politics, both women are likely to see their fates decided by bigger powers.

Kelly Ayotte has been a good senator, is hardworking, and is visible — maybe more so than [senior New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne] Shaheen,” said Fergus Cullen, a former chairman of the state’s Republican Party. “So she isn’t vulnerable because she’s done anything wrong or her record is bad. It’s that she’s representing a competitive swing state.”

The latest polls have the two candidates neck-and-neck. New Hampshire’s Senate campaign filing deadline is next June, three months ahead of their primary, but it is unlikely that any other candidates will join the race.

“This is a national election taking place in the context of local politics,” said Stephen Pimpare, a political scientist at the University of New Hampshire. “Just because this is such a well-matched race with exceedingly well-matched candidates, this race will be as tight a year from now as it is right now. And as all tight races do, it comes down to voter mobilization, who can get voters to the polls.”

Democrats in New Hampshire have a voter turnout advantage in presidential election years, which should boost the governor.

Jim Demers, a political advisor at Demers & Blaisdell, said that New Hampshire voters are in sync with the rest of the country in being frustrated with the national legislature’s inability to get anything done, which could put Mrs. Ayotte in murky waters with Republican voters and help Mrs. Hassan capture the seat.

“That does not bode well for incumbents because one of the things we’re seeing in our presidential primary here and across the country is the popularity of non-Washington candidates like Donald Trump and Ben Carson,” Mr. Demers said. “And I think that’s a real problem for the Republicans, because the Republicans are more frustrated than anyone with the way things have been working for the last several years.”

That means Mrs. Ayotte needs to encourage that base of Republicans while still reaching out to voters who say they want bipartisan cooperation.

Kelly‘s running to continue her work as an independent leader who crosses the aisle to deliver results for New Hampshire,” Ayotte spokeswoman Chloe Rockow said. “As the 7th most bipartisan Senator and 4th most likely to cross the aisle, Kelly has worked tirelessly for New Hampshire families by helping create a better climate for job growth, working to keep our country safe, and pushing for a balanced budget.”

Hassan spokesman Aaron Jacobs touted her status as a Washington outsider.

“A determined advocate for New Hampshire families, Maggie believes we need a response from Washington that meets the progress we’re making here in the Granite State. A response New Hampshire is not getting because Washington has given in to powerful special interests and lobbyists who rig the system for themselves and against the middle-class,” Mr. Jacobs said.

Mrs. Ayotte won her 2010 election with 60 percent of the vote, while Mrs. Hassan won her most recent governor’s election with 52 percent.

Both will have the challenge of finding the funding to keep up advertising in a state where TV is dominated by expensive Boston stations that mostly air to other states.

That leaves both candidates trying to focus on New Hampshire interests at a time when the presidential campaigns will be pushing voters toward a nationalized message. It will be a harder challenge for Mrs. Ayotte, Mr. Pimpare said.

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