- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 19, 2016

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte is the target of Planned Parenthood’s first television ad of the 2016 Senate cycle, a spot hitting New Hampshire’s freshman senator for her anti-abortion stance and opposition to holding hearings on President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee.

The group’s decision to kick off the cycle by spending against Ayotte underscores the high-stakes nature of the race between Ayotte and Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan. The race will be key in determining control of the Senate, and outside money is already pouring into the state.

The Planned Parenthood spot cost $400,000 and will run for about 10 days on cable and broadcast stations, according to the group. The ad says Ayotte is abdicating her duties by opposing hearings on the court nominee; it uses a clip of Ayotte saying she would like to see the nation’s landmark abortion case, Roe v. Wade, overturned.

Ayotte does not support federal funding for Planned Parenthood but went to battle with her GOP colleagues who attempted to shut down the government over the issue last year.

“For New Hampshire women, the consequences of letting Kelly Ayotte play politics with the Constitution could last a lifetime,” a narrator says.

Ayotte met with nominee Merrick Garland last week but says a justice shouldn’t be appointed until after the presidential election. The Judicial Crisis Network, another outside spending group, launched television ads in support of Ayotte’s position in February.

Her campaign is defending her record on women’s issues and women’s health care, pointing to bills she’s supported on mammograms and over-the-counter contraception.

“Kelly’s long record of standing up for New Hampshire women and families is clear, and she cares deeply about ensuring all women have access to health services,” her campaign manager Jon Kohan said in a statement.

Women’s issues are poised to play a significant role in the contest between Ayotte and Hassan. Democrats in New Hampshire have effectively used abortion as a wedge issue in past contests, including in the 2014 race between incumbent Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and challenger Scott Brown.

Funding for Planned Parenthood took center stage in the state last summer, when New Hampshire’s five-member executive council rejected a state contract with the organization.

Planned Parenthood isn’t the first outside organization to target Ayotte. Senate Majority PAC, the outside spending group backing Democratic candidates, has spent roughly $1.6 million in television ads. On the GOP side, a group called One Nation linked to Karl Rove has spent several million dollars promoting Ayotte since last year.

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