Kelly Ayotte: GOP gambles with a fresh, female face in N.H.

The state's former attorney general, with her eye on a US Senate seat, is something of a political blank slate.

Jim Cole/AP
Kelly Ayotte, who served 5-1/2 years as New Hampshire's attorney general, has the backing of the Republican establishment for a US Senate bid.

Kelly Ayotte, New Hampshire attorney general for the past five years, is a friend of law enforcement and abortion opponents.

But as a newly minted politician, set to run for the Senate seat being vacated by Judd Gregg, the 41-year-old Republican is a blank slate. Will Ms. Ayotte be a hard-line conservative or a moderate, in the mold of neighboring Maine’s two Republican female senators?

“That is yet to be determined,” says Dante Scala, a political scientist at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. “As attorney general she was closed-mouthed about her political views.”

One point working in her favor, for a state that has voted Democratic in recent elections: She was appointed to her job by a Republican governor, then reappointed by a Democrat. Now that she has stepped down as the state’s chief law officer, she has to define herself – fast – before the Democrats do.

But even without clearly articulated positions, Ayotte is by default the front-runner for the GOP nomination, as potential opponents have melted away.

She also has the backing of the state’s Republican establishment, including Senator Gregg, who urged her to run. And for the national GOP, desperate for more diversity, having a fresh, female face to highlight is good news. When Ayotte resigned on July 17 to pursue the Senate, Washington Democrats called her a “quitter” like Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. In other words, Democrats are nervous.

If she has any national profile at all, it is from her role in a 2006 abortion case considered by the US Supreme Court – Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood of Northern New England – in which she successfully defended her state’s parental notification law. But she has yet to articulate a personal view on abortion.

Ayotte needs some work as a public speaker, says independent New Hampshire pollster Dick Bennett. “It’s like anyone who’s never run for office,” he says. “But she’s smart and personable.”

Part of a series of articles on reshaping the Republican party.


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