The race for statewide office in New Hampshire is starting to look more and more like the presidential election cycle each year. Candidates get in early, raise as much money as possible, and hopefully clear the field of serious challengers sooner rather than later. Given this emerging dynamic, the announcement today that Attorney General Kelly Ayotte is resigning her position to explore a run for the U.S. Senate should not come as a huge surprise to local political observers.
With the John E. Sununu question now answered, and a new UNH poll showing Ayotte to be competitive with Congressman Paul Hodes, pressure for Ayotte to make a decision would have only continued to escalate, probably to intolerable levels by the end of summer. At least the attorney general was smart enough to realize that it would be increasingly difficult for her to do what is institutionally considered a “nonpartisan” job amidst all of the political speculation now swirling around her.
As I noted in a previous post, assuming Ayotte enters the race (a fairly safe assumption, given she just resigned), the question remains whether there will be pressure from some quarters of the state Republican Party to clear the primary field, in order to avoid having her get scuffed up before the general election. I am of two minds on this. To the extent possible, parties understandably like to avoid having their rising stars get beaten up in a primary. But for a green candidate like Ayotte, there is also something to be said for using a contested primary to work the kinks out of her campaign while at least half of the state electorate (or more) isn’t paying a whole lot of attention.
We also don’t really know yet where Ayotte’s electoral persona will fall on the ideological spectrum. There is a risk to assuming a perfect one-to-one correspondence between her legal opinions as AG and future policy platform, although we have gotten a few hints on issues like abortion, the death penalty, and medical marijuana. Plus, senators cover large swaths of foreign and domestic policy which are outside the purview of typical state-level AG law enforcement issues. Once Ayotte's political persona comes into clearer focus, moderate or conservative, we’ll be able to better gauge her appeal to independent voters. For now, however, even with all of the potential many political observers see in her candidacy, Ayotte is still largely an electoral blank slate. Today she took the first step toward filling in those blanks.
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