Kelly Ayotte election: a relief to mainstream Republicans

The nomination of Kelly Ayotte for a US Senate seat from New Hampshire is good news for the Republican Party establishment, given these 'tea party' times.

Jim Cole/AP
Kelly Ayotte sits in a hotel room with her husband, Joe Daley, after learning she won the Republican nomination for US Senate in Concord, N.H., Wednesday. In November, she faces US Rep. Paul Hodes (D).

The Republican nomination of Kelly Ayotte for a US Senate seat from New Hampshire is good news – and a source of relief given these "tea party" times –for the establishment GOP.

In a Granite State squeaker, the former state attorney general beat opponent Ovide Lamontagne by 1,667 votes – close enough so that the Manchester attorney had a day to decide whether to ask for a recount.

Ms. Ayotte had the backing of the state GOP and incumbent US Sen. Judd Gregg, who is retiring. Mr. Lamontagne was preferred by many in the tea party movement, including conservative Sen. Jim DeMint (R) of South Carolina. He also had the endorsement of New Hampshire’s major newspaper, the Union Leader.

In other Republican primary elections Tuesday, tea party favorites prevailed in come-from-behind upsets over the GOP establishment. Christine O’Donnell bested US Rep. Michael Castle to run for the US Senate seat in Delaware once held by Vice President Joe Biden. Carl Paladino beat former congressman Rick Lazio to run for governor of New York.

The difference with Ayotte in New Hampshire was that she had the very important endorsement of Sarah Palin, whose “mama grizzly” blessing means a great deal within the tea party movement.

The results in Delaware left GOP spokesmen muttering. Strategist Karl Rove already is conceding the seat to Democrats. Following what was interpreted as grudging response to Ms. O’Donnell’s victory from the National Republican Senatorial Committee, NRSC chairman Sen. John Cornyn of Texas offered his “personal congratulations” and initial campaign funding. Still, Senate minority whip Jon Kyl of Arizona acknowledged the difficulties ahead for the GOP in Delaware.

“I think the common wisdom is that it would have been much easier for Mike Castle to win that seat,” Senator Kyl told

In New Hampshire, Ayotte is the favorite in her general election race against US Rep. Paul Hodes (D).

She is a moderate conservative who opposes abortion, but would allow exceptions for rape, incest, and medical emergencies. She has spoken favorably of a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. And while she says she would have opposed President Obama’s nomination of Elena Kagan to the US Supreme Court, she probably would have voted to approve Sonia Sotomayor.

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