A Palin plug boosts Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire’s GOP Senate primary Bedford, N.H. — Kelly Ayotte meets me at Panera Bread, which, a campaign aide confides, is one of her favorite spots. Lodged in the corner of a concrete strip mall south of Manchester, Panera— a corporate chain — is part café, part “artisan” bakery, with plush chairs and gourmet grinds. When I arrive, I spot Ayotte in the back, smartly dressed with coffee in hand, milling about, a star among the soccer-mom set that crowds the booths.
Ayotte, 42, a former state attorney general, is in the midst of a tight primary campaign. With Sen. Judd Gregg retiring after three terms, a spot in the upper chamber is open, and Ayotte — along with businessmen Bill Binnie and Jim Bender, and Ovide Lamontagne, a former chairman of the state education board — is gunning to win the GOP nod on September 14. With the latest Rasmussen poll showing all four hopefuls beating congressman Paul Hodes, the Democrats’ presumptive nominee, the race for the Republican nomination has livened up an otherwise slow summer. […]
Then, on Monday afternoon, Sarah Palin shook up the primary, taking to her Facebook page to dub Ayotte the country’s newest “mama gizzly” — Palin’s designation for “commonsense, conservative women” who are itching to stand up to the Obama agenda. (The club already included two of the country’s most notable female candidates this cycle — Nikki Haley, the GOP gubernatorial nominee in South Carolina, and Carly Fiorina, the Republican Senate nominee in California.) Palin wrote that she was impressed by Ayotte, a “daughter of the Granite State, a daughter of its public schools, and its first female attorney general,” and praised Ayotte’s “pro- life, pro-family, anti-tax constitutional” positions. Palin even took a shot at Binnie, who’s been blanketing the airwaves, calling him a “self-funded millionaire running with an ‘R’ next to his name who likes Obamacare and cap-and tax.” […]
Though Palin’s Facebook post has thrust Ayotte into the headlines, the first-time candidate (she was appointed attorney general) has not had an entirely smooth run. After indicating that she’d support the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, Ayotte has some ground to recover on the right. There have been some other bumps in the road, too, most notably a bitter cross-party fight over Ayotte’s record as attorney general. Hodes has spent $300,000 on ads targeting Ayotte’s response to fraud while in office, calling her efforts lackluster. He points to a task force Ayotte’s office started in 2008 to go after mortgage fraud and says that so enough to investigate Financial ResourcesMortgage Inc., which was later found to be criminally bilking investors. Ayotte, for the most part, has weathered the charge, with FactCheck.org and numerous newspapers calling Hodes’s ad misleading. Nevertheless, questions about the bureaucratic breakdown linger, and Bender, her primary foe, has given a thumbs-up to Hodes’s spot. […]
Sounding quite Palin-esque, Ayotte continues, noting that she was “angry with President Obama for apologizing for America” and with the Democratic Congress for “mortgaging my children’s future.” Instead of “continuing to yell, I decided to roll up my sleeves, resign my job, and do this. . . . The administration was taking us away from some of the fundamental values that have made us great,” she says. “We need to stop the unprecedented expansion of government, appeasing our enemies, and creating an entitlement culture.” Ayotte may be a “mama grizzly,” but in New Hampshire, you don’t know what’ll happen until Election Day. “Lamontagne has his strong base identification, plus a core group of 25,000 to 30,000 who will head to the polls for him, and I think he can bridge the money gap. Bender is making inroads, too,” notes Tom Rath, a longtime New Hampshire GOP strategist. “With Binnie attacking Ayotte — and that pair snipes at each other daily — there may soon be room for one of the challengers to rise. The big variable, as always, will be turnout — and people are just starting to pay attention.” the challengers to rise. The big variable, as always, will be turnout -- and people are just starting to pay attention.”--
Robert Costa is the William F. Buckley Jr. Fellow at the National Review Institute.