You may have caught this article in The New York Times over the weekend, which looks at the phenomenon of state Republican parties around the country pushing back against the National Republican Senatorial Committee for what is viewed as meddling in state primary politics. As you might expect, case study number one in the article is the New Hampshire Senate race featuring former state Attorney General Kelly Ayotte, and the question of whether the NRSC has unfairly placed its well-funded thumb on the party primary scale in her favor.
Every time someone mentions this issue to me (which is often), I have two responses. First, it has been true for some time now that the two parties’ national Congressional campaign committees intimately involve themselves in state-level candidate recruitment. It is a function of the broader nationalization of our local politics, in which technology and prodigious fundraising have allowed the national committees to carefully orchestrate the vetting of local talent and the provision of resources across all contests. An acceleration of the campaign cycle has pushed these committees to move earlier than ever before.
Second, it should be no surprise to any political observer that the NRSC zeroed in on Kelly Ayotte so quickly. In addition to Senator Judd Gregg’s boosterism, Ayotte brings significant name recognition from her high-profile statewide position, has served under governors of both parties (suggesting the potential for a broad electoral coalition), and has an appealing personal story. So, from a resume-vetting perspective, this was a no-brainer for the NRSC. The catch, of course, is whether she can campaign effectively. I think the verdict is still out on this question, and will be for some time.
Anyone who followed electoral politics over the summer knows Democrats (and a few Republicans) have hit Ayotte mercilessly on all of this. As I noted above, this kind of hidden-hand behavior by the national Congressional committees is nothing new, and it will be with us all the way through the general election. The problem for Ayotte is that because she hasn’t had much else going on publicly as a candidate over the past few months, this Washington connection story became her main political narrative.

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