New Hampshire voters unmoved by Trump’s criticism of Ayotte

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CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — New Hampshire voters are largely dismissing Donald Trump’s new criticism of Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte as campaign chatter that reflects more poorly on the businessman than it does on Ayotte.

“I don’t think she necessarily said or did anything wrong, she spoke her values,” said Amy Wright, a Democrat from Hopkinton who doesn’t support Ayotte’s re-election. “He plays very unfair.”

Of Ayotte, Trump told The Washington Post this week, “we don’t need weak people,” and said she’s given him “zero support.” Ayotte, who is in a tough re-election fight against Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, says she will vote for Trump but is not endorsing him. She condemned his recent criticisms of the parents of a fallen soldier.

Democratic officials say Ayotte’s maneuvering proves she’s spineless, while Republican leaders counter Trump’s criticism shows she’s an independent thinker. Voters, meanwhile, say the latest exchange isn’t changing their opinions, and some who are undecided say it won’t sway their vote.

“They’re independent people,” Eileen Sullivan Tormey said of Ayotte and Trump. Asked if it was fair for Democrats to tie them together, she said, “you can’t.”

Still Tormey, who is undecided, said Ayotte’s quiet support for Trump gives her doubts.

“That’s where I’m hesitant on Kelly Ayotte,” she said.

Nearly seven out of 10 likely voters are undecided in the U.S. Senate race, according to a July poll from the University of New Hampshire Survey Center. The poll sampled 469 likely New Hampshire voters by phone, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

Ayotte has toed a fine line in reaching out to independents while maintaining credibility with her Republican base. She faces former state senator Jim Rubens in a Sept. 13 primary.

State Rep. Ken Weyler, of Kingston, said he doesn’t always agree with Ayotte but will support her because she gives “straight answers.” Weyler, a Trump supporter, said it’s unlikely Trump’s remarks will hurt her.

“She’s known in New Hampshire, she’s got a reputation in New Hampshire,” he said.

Republican National Committeeman Steve Duprey said Trump’s latest attack damages Democrats’ argument that Ayotte and Trump are one in the same.

“I think Donald Trump attacking Kelly Ayotte is a net benefit to Kelly Ayotte in the eyes of most New Hampshire patriotic voters,” he said.

But Kathy Sullivan, a Democratic National Committeewoman, said Ayotte looks weak for continuing to support Trump in the face of his criticisms and other widely condemned comments.

“It certainly is an issue about her courage,” Sullivan said. “She’s got problems.”

Rebekah Skoog, an undeclared voter from Tilton, New Hampshire, said she’s paid limited attention to the race but is skeptical of Ayotte’s continued support for Trump.

“To continue to support him, I would question why you would do that,” she said.

Most polling shows Ayotte is faring better among New Hampshire voters than Trump.

Pat Lodi, a self-described independent from Hooksett who plans to vote for Ayotte, said Trump should be careful criticizing Ayotte.

“Anything negative he says,” Lodi said. “Reflects poorly on him.”