Ayotte picks up key endorsement from former GOP foe
By Evan Lips | March 17, 2016, 17:44 EDT
MANCHESTER, N.H. – U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, the New Hampshire Republican battling to fend off a challenge for her Senate seat from Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, scored what could prove to be a significant coup to shore up support within conservative circles after a former GOP foe penned a strong endorsement for her reelection in the New Hampshire Union Leader.
Ovide Lamontagne, who tried to ride a wave of Granite State Tea Party support in 2010 by challenging Ayotte for the Senate seat then being vacated by Judd Gregg, on Wednesday called on fellow conservatives to put aside minor ideological differences and rally behind her.
“While there has been some legitimate debate within the conservative movement about this race, given Gov. Maggie Hassan’s recent decision to abandon the governor‘s office in an effort to unseat Sen. Ayotte, from a conservative’s perspective, I wholeheartedly believe Kelly Ayotte is the right person at the right time to win this election,” Lamontagne wrote in the opinion-page article published by New Hampshire’s biggest newspaper.
Lamontagne’s 2010 grueling primary race against Ayotte went down to the wire, with the congresswoman besting the conservative attorney by a mere 1,659 votes. Four years ago, Lamontagne took on Hassan in a bid for the governor’s office but lost, 55 percent to 43 percent.
Lamontagne’s support comes at a critical time for Ayotte, who learned recently that she will have to defeat a primary challenge from former New Hampshire state senator Jim Rubens before she can face Hassan in November. Rubens, who claims that conservatives have “divorced” themselves from the Granite State’s Republican senator, is attempting to capitalize on the insurgent fervor currently rocking the Republican Party by portraying Ayotte as part of the so-called establishment.
The endorsement of Lamontagne, an anti-establishment conservative, may help Ayotte fend off Rubens’ critique.
In his essay for the Union Leader, Lamontagne invoked the ‘Buckley Rule,’ named after the late conservative writer William F. Buckley, which holds that Republicans have a duty to support the “most right, viable candidate who could win.”
Lamontagne’s missive echoes similar words he said in 2014 when he told WMUR-TV in Manchester that he would not challenge Ayotte’s reelection this year and added that it was “time for Republicans to rally behind the most conservative candidate who can win.”
“In my estimation, that candidate is Kelly Ayotte,” he said in the November 2015 interview, stopping short of issuing his full endorsement at that time.
On Wednesday, Lamontagne described Ayotte as a “woman of accomplishment” and stressed the differences between her and Hassan.
“Whatever disagreement conservatives may have with her on one or more isolated issues, a brief comparison with Maggie Hassan’s extreme tax and spend policies, her radical agenda on social issues and her blind allegiance to the Harry Reid/Barack Obama/Hillary Clinton agenda leads to only one conclusion: Kelly Ayotte’s position on the issues will make her a far better senator for New Hampshire’s families, citizens and our country than Maggie Hassan,” Lamontagne wrote.
Ayotte in 2016 sits in an unenviable position for an incumbent as splintering inside the GOP has helped New York billionaire Donald Trump in his presidential campaign.
At times, Ayotte has had to distance herself from Trump, who dominated last month’s New Hampshire Republican primary, while making sure she doesn’t alienate his legions of supporters.
The most recent polling averages published by RealClearPolitics.com on Feb. 28 showed Ayotte leading Hassan by just 4.5 percentage points.