Veepstakes: Who Is Sen. Kelly Ayotte?

Apr 30, 2012 1:15pm
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(Image Credit: Charles Dharapak/AP Photo)

As Mitt Romney travels the country, campaigning with prominent Republicans thought to be possible VP selections, his latest stop has brought him to New Hampshire, home of Sen. Kelly Ayotte.

Romney and Ayotte will campaign together in Portsmouth today. Romney has campaigned this month in Wisconsin with Rep. Paul Ryan and in Florida with Sen. Marco Rubio.

Ayotte, 43, isn’t as well known as some other names that may be under consideration, but she would carry some benefits as vice-presidential running mate.

She’s the Granite State’s junior senator, having defeated Democratic congressman Paul Hodes in 2010, the friendliest year for conservative Republicans in recent memory.

Endorsed by Sarah Palin as a “Granite State ‘mama grizzly’ who has broken barriers,” Ayotte emerged from a Republican primary in which she was not considered to be the most conservative candidate. Ovide Lamontagne staked firmer claim to the Tea-Party mantle, collecting endorsements from Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., the think tank Liberty Central, and Laura Ingraham, who called Ayotte an “establishment GOPer” and warned that New Hampshire was among a handful of states in which a “wannabe … pretend conservative” had shifted to the right in a primary against a true conservative.

Ayotte narrowly defeated Lamontagne in their multi-way primary 38 percent to 37 percent, by 1,659 votes.

Before winning her Senate seat, Ayotte had served as New Hampshire attorney general since 2004, appointed to that role by then-Gov. Craig Benson, whom she had previously served as legal counsel.

VP STRENGTHS

It was in the attorney general role that Ayotte achieved her most impressive resume bullet-point in Romney’s veepstakes.

In November 2005, Ayotte personally argued before the Supreme Court in favor of a state law requiring parental notification in the case of abortions for minors. The Supreme Court remanded Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood of Northern New England back to a federal appellate court, but the state legislature repealed the law in 2007, making the case moot.

Ayotte was also a relatively early endorser of Romney, backing his presidential bid on Nov. 20, 2011.

VP WEAKNESSES

Ayotte does hail from a potential swing state–George W. Bush carried New Hampshire in 2000–but President Obama polls well ahead of Mitt Romney there currently, according to the latest WMUR survey. New Hampshire carries only four Electoral College votes, giving Romney little motivation to pick Ayotte for swing-state reasoning.

A bigger problem might be that, during her 2010 campaign, Ayotte said she would have broken from GOP ranks and voted to confirm Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor, despite concerns over her ruling in the New Haven firefighters’ racial discrimination case. The Judicial Crisis Network, a conservative group that focuses on judicial appointments, ran ads in New Hampshire during Ayotte’s primary campaign attacking her for that stance. Ayotte said she would have voted against confirming Obama’s second Supreme Court nominee, Justice Elena Kagan.

Ayotte drew attacks from another primary opponent, Bill Binnie, over her stances on gun laws, but the heart of his complaint may look less like a weakness for Ayotte in light of Trayvon Martin’s killing and the national-media coverage surrounding it: Binnie attacked Ayotte for opposing a law similar to the deadly-force law on Florida’s books.

As a freshman senator, Ayotte is untested on the national stage, although so is Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., thought to be a strong candidate for the position.

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