CQ Politics: New Hampshire: ‘Butt Out’ of GOP Primary
Rachel Kapochunas 8/5/09
John Cornyn , chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, has a message for all conservatives angered by its decision to get involved in New Hampshire’s 2010 primary: it’s not an endorsement.
A GOP backlash has sprouted in New Hampshire regarding NRSC attention being paid to potential Republican candidate Kelly Ayotte, who resigned as state attorney general in July to explore a bid for the open Senate race. A report that the NRSC sent invitations to an Ayotte fundraiser sparked blowback from some New Hampshire residents, including a recent editorial in the Union Leader, which accused Washington insiders of attempting to control the primary process in their state.
“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,” stated the Aug. 3 editorial.
Republicans are on the defense in the highly competitive seat, which is being vacated by Republican Sen. Judd Gregg . Democrats have rallied around Rep. Paul W. Hodes as their nominee, while the GOP is working to solidify their field. Attorney Ovide Lamontagne, the 1996 GOP nominee for governor, has made clear he is considering the race and likely would run to Ayotte’s right if he does enter.
Cornyn, R-Texas, touted Ayotte’s candidacy during a roundtable with reporters Wednesday, but later stressed that the committee has not made an official endorsement, noting that Ayotte has not requested one. “I respect, ultimately, the right of the people of New Hampshire to select their own candidate and I think it would be presumptuous of us to pick one,” Cornyn said.
But in Florida, the NRSC has chosen a primary candidate for the open 2010 Senate race: Republican Gov. Charlie Crist . The committee’s decision to back Crist for Senate has angered some conservatives, including supporters of Republican candidate Marco Rubio, a former state House speaker who is running against Crist in the primary.
South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint and other Washington Republicans have broken with the majority of their party to publicly back Rubio.
When asked whether the committee is risking a conservative backlash by the New Hampshire and Florida primary activity, Brian Walsh of the NRSC responded by defending the choice of Crist, noting the governor’s fundraising potential as well as his popularity and lead in the polls.
The NRSC finds itself on the defensive in many states in 2010 — in part, because of the number of open seats held by Republicans.
Five of the open seats held by Republicans are rated as Tossups or in the “Leans” category by CQ Politics: Kentucky, Missouri, New Hampshire, Ohio and Florida.
By becoming involved in those primaries, analysts say, the NRSC is hoping to avoid a costly primary as well as define a moderate candidate whom they believe will be successful in general elections in competitive states.
In addition, they say, it tells their donors where to direct their attention. “They’re giving the campaign a good head start,” said Dante Scala, political scientist at the University of New Hampshire, who added that first-time candidate Ayotte has no fundraising experience.
“I think they’re willing to risk the short-term backlash to support someone who they think actually has legs in New Hampshire,” Scala said.
To see how all the 2010 Senate races are shaping up, check out the CQ Politics election map