Senate hopeful Ayotte to talk issues in Wolfeboro
By TOM FAHEY
State House Bureau Chief
CONCORD - Former state Attorney General Kelly Ayotte will make a key public appearance in Wolfeboro tonight to outline her political stance. But her budding campaign for the U.S. Senate is shadowed by a growing controversy over complaints of national interference in state Republican politics.
Ayotte, a 41-year-old Nashua native, will talk policy tonight at a Winnipesaukee Republican Committee event, campaign spokesman Brooks Kochvar said yesterday. She has not laid out her positions on key issues, such as abortion, economic recovery or health care, since she resigned her state post July 17.
For those growing anxious to hear where Ayotte stands, tonight is the night, Kochvar said. She's been meeting with voters across the state, but the discussion will become more public in Wolfeboro, he said.
"When it comes to issues that are important in this election, she'll be talking about them with voters," he said. "Starting tomorrow."
Meanwhile, an intra-party feud is developing over a high-priced fundraiser the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) has set for Ayotte next month. Proceeds will be used to bolster her bid to succeed retiring Republican U.S. Sen. Judd Gregg. The committee wants attendees to contribute between $500 and $2,000 each.
Ayotte's potential GOP opponents say the national party is disrupting the state's primary process, trying to hand-pick a candidate to face Democratic U.S. Rep. Paul Hodes in 2010.
Jim Merrill, senior adviser to Manchester lawyer Ovide Lamontagne, who is considering a run for the Senate, said the NRSC ought to stay clear of the race for now. The time to get involved will be next fall, when the primary is over.
"They clearly have a favorite in this race," Merrill said. "Our perspective, and that of most New Hampshire residents, is they should let the people of the state decide who the nominee of the party should be. We have plenty of time to figure this out."
Shawn Mahoney, a Republican National Committee member, said yesterday he is seriously weighing a bid, too.
"The message has been delivered loud and clear at NRSC that New Hampshire voters should decide this. They don't want their candidates chosen by the elites in Washington," Mahoney said. "Now, whether or not they listen down there is a different question."
NRSC Chairman Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, was quoted last week in Roll Call saying the fundraiser does not equate to an endorsement. She hasn't asked, and the committee hasn't endorsed her, he said.
"I respect the right of New Hampshire voters to pick their own candidate," he told reporters.
Cornyn said the Sept. 22 event is meant to provide cash for Ayotte in the eventual battle against Hodes.
Merrill said Cornyn and the rest of the NRSC may say they haven't taken sides, but "their actions belie the facts."
Kochvar said Ayotte did not ask for the NRSC endorsement and doesn't see the fundraiser as one.
"She welcomes the support. While she hasn't asked for endorsement of anybody in Washington, D.C., and they haven't given one, they want to support her in any way they can. If they want to hold a fundraiser, she welcomes that opportunity," Kochvar said.
At the Winnipesaukee GOP event tonight, Ayotte will give a brief speech, followed by Manchester Mayor Frank Guinta, who is running for Congress. Each will then speak with voters individually. Winnipesaukee GOP Vice Chairman Harold Parker said the event will not include a public question-and-answer session.
He clarified what he said were inaccurate reports that cameras will be barred from the event. Accredited media, including newspapers and commercial television stations, will be allowed to videotape, Parker said. But the committee has decided to block others from bringing video cameras.
"I think we've seen enough trackers from the other side, so we laid down the law. We said we're not here to allow GOP candidates to be put in positions where Democrats will take advantage down the road. We've seen enough of that," Parker said. "This is a social event, and we want people to relax and enjoy themselves."