NHDP - Republican Primary Kicks into Gear

Candidates Spar Over Role of GOP Establishment In NH Race

CONCORD - After news broke that the Republican establishment in Washington was again shoring up support for New Hampshire senate candidate Kelly Ayotte, the NH Republican primary finally took off, with candidates now engaged in a bruising battle over the Washington GOP's role in the race. The back-and-forth is the latest example of a growing divide between the Washington-based GOP establishment and New Hampshire's grassroots Republicans.

After reports yesterday that the National Republican Senatorial Committee had launched a fundraising committee for Kelly Ayotte, despite claims of non-endorsement, primary challenger Ovide Lamontagne immediately pounced, saying that this "once again shows how clearly the NRSC has anointed Kelly Ayotte as their preferred pick for Senate in New Hampshire" [NH Political Report, 12/14/09, RedHampshire Blog, 12/14/09].

Ayotte shot back last night, with campaign manager Brooks Kochvar saying that "It's ironic that Ovide says he's not focused on the Washington establishment, but months ago he went to Washington and asked for the NRSC's support" [RedHampshire, 12/14/09].

After months of reporting on Ayotte's Washington-based candidacy, Lamontagne joined the race this fall as the self-declared "anti-establishment" candidate. Referring to news reports that Ayotte had funneled in tens of thousands of dollars from top GOP members in Washington and was relying on DC-based advisors to guide her campaign, Lamontagne referred to his 1996 run for Governor: "I was not the establishment candidate, but I won a primary.  I was not the establishment candidate then, and I'm not the establishment candidate now" [Lamontagne Belknap Remarks, 10/15/09]. 

The establishment struggle is not new to the New Hampshire GOP or Kelly Ayotte this election cycle. The Union Leader editorialized earlier this year that "The party bosses in D.C. think they know better than the locals how to pick winning candidates. They don't. They should butt out and let the people who actually live here decide" [Union Leader, 8/3/09]. NHGOP Chairman John H. Sununu also took a direct shot, saying that "I hope the NRSC understands that New Hampshire doesn't really respond well to having candidates designated from outside the state" [The Hill, 8/3/09].