Kelly Ayotte’s New Hampshire Trump problem
By Evan Lips | March 4, 2016, 13:09 EST
NASHUA, N.H. — Sen. Kelly Ayotte, like other Republican officials up for re-election this year, has a Donald Trump problem.
The Granite State senator, who is facing a tough race against sitting Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, recently told the Manchester Union-Leader she “intends to support” whomever captures the GOP presidential nomination.
The current GOP frontrunner is the controversial real estate mogul Donald J. Trump, who crushed his opponents in New Hampshire’s first in the nation Republican primary last month.
The latest WMUR poll numbers show Ayotte leading Hassan by a scant margin.
According to the WMUR poll, Ayotte holds a 45-41 edge, a lead that is within the the poll’s 3.9 percent margin of error.
The wedge between Trump and Republicans soared to new heights after Trump’s issued a series of questionable “know-nothing” responses to CNN’s Jake Tapper queries about whether he will disavow an endorsement from David Duke, a former grand wizard for the Ku Klux Klan.
Ayotte on Monday responded to the swirling controversy, saying “there’s no place in our society for racism and bigotry” and adding that she “found Mr. Trump’s response to David Duke and the KKK disgusting and offensive.”
The trick for Ayotte is to hold on to the same voters who in 2010 backed her fiscally conservative message and elected her to the Senate by a 23-point margin, while also not alienating supporters who turned out in droves last month to vote for Trump.
Ayotte faces pressure from moderates who backed her in 2010 and who are turned off by Trump incendiary rhetoric. But if she distances herself from Trump, anti-establishment voters who rushed to Trump’s side in the primary could have it in for her.
Fergus Cullen, who ran the New Hampshire Republican State Committee from 2007 to 2008, summed up Ayotte’s dilemma it bluntly in an interview with Bloomberg last month.
“It’s not like Passover, where the voters say, ‘Oh, these are the good Republicans that we’re meant to spare,’” Cullen said. “They kill them all.”