- Associated Press - Sunday, February 28, 2016

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - As Sen. Kelly Ayotte holds firm on her stance that a new Supreme Court justice shouldn’t be nominated until after the election, some New Hampshire voters are rolling their eyes at what they view as the latest round of Washington dysfunction.

“I’m disappointed,” said Patricia Dvareckas, a registered Republican from Nashua. “Most of the time I thought her opinions and her actions dictated first what was important and second what was the party line, but it’s an election year.”

Facing a tough re-election battle against Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, Ayotte has broken from her party on several occasions - often to the chagrin of the most conservative members of her base. But since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, Ayotte has stuck to the party line, saying earlier this week that she won’t meet with a nominee should President Barack Obama name one.

“Kelly believes that in the midst of a consequential election the voters should be given the ability to weigh in on an appointment of such magnitude,” her campaign spokesman Jon Kohan said.

The fate of vulnerable Republican incumbents in New Hampshire, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania - all states Obama won twice - will be a major factor in who controls the Senate next year. But roughly six months out, it’s unclear how the Supreme Court vacancy could affect the November election here. Dvareckas and her sister, Democrat Anne-Marie Pelkey, for example, said they still plan to vote for Ayotte because they appreciate her overall record. And for conservatives annoyed with Ayotte, one position may not be enough to win back their favor.

“We won’t know until she actually makes the vote whether she’s telling the truth or not,” said Bob Clegg, a former GOP state senator. “What I’ve seen so far, she hasn’t been truthful to us.”

Hassan, meanwhile, is pouncing on the position as evidence that Ayotte isn’t the independent-minded senator she claims to be.

“I am deeply troubled that Senator Ayotte remains in lock-step with her party and continues to refuse to do her job,” Hassan said in a statement.

But Fergus Cullen, a former chairman of the state Republican party, said Ayotte needs to strike a balance between sticking with her party and breaking from it.

“Sometimes she’s consistent with Republican orthodoxy and sometimes she’s not, and that’s what makes her independent,” he said.

Not all New Hampshire voters are impressed.

Kevin Fortier, a Republican from Bedford, said he’s disgusted with both parties’ handling of the situation.

“If I’m looking at the Senate I’m embarrassed,” he said. “I want our Supreme Court to be above politics.”

Fortier is an evangelical pastor who considers his anti-abortion stance to be his top voting issue and something important to him in a Supreme Court justice. But he characterizes himself as a “strict constitutionalist” and believes it’s important for the court to have all nine members. Fortier said Democrats also look foolish for quickly taking a partisan stance.

Likewise, Melissa Zani, an attorney from Exeter, says she doesn’t like to see political posturing around the court. Zani, a Democrat, says she’s paid minimal attention to the back-and-forth between Ayotte and Hassan but has strong beliefs that the court doesn’t need another conservative like Scalia based on her experiences as a single-mother to a gay son.

Zani said she’d consider voting for Ayotte, but the Supreme Court fight makes the Republican less appealing. She doesn’t agree with Ayotte’s assessment that the process should be stalled until after the election.

“That’s a political move,” she said, noting that Americans have elected Obama twice. “It’s the Democrat party right now that gets to finish their job.”


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