Keypoint: "She voted with gun control advocates before she voted against them and now U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte may look back at her Sunday surprise announcement that she will support passage of a Senate immigration bill as another political fumble as a rookie in elected office."
WMUR: Analysis: Ayotte's immigration position undercuts key political friend
Printed June 10, 2013
MANCHESTER, N.H. - She voted with gun control advocates before she voted against them and now U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte may look back at her Sunday surprise announcement that she will support passage of a Senate immigration bill as another political fumble as a rookie in elected office.
As Ayotte struggles to develop a consistent political brand, she begins this week with liberals angry with her over a gun vote from the spring, conservatives angry with her for supporting immigration reform and another $400,000 in television ads running against her in her home state, with no counter ads supporting her.
New Hampshire Republican Party secretary Diane Bitter even encouraged members on a local Tea Party email list to "express" their opinion to Ayotte through the Senate's website.
Possibly hoping to change the subject away from guns or maybe to just issue a position ahead of the Senate's immigration debate this week, Ayotte told a CBS News "Face The Nation" she will support the immigration reform bill. Ayotte's statement was very significant because the measure now has the needed 60 votes to pass and because she is the first Republican to support the bill who hasn't been a co-author.
If that is her position, that's fine, but the way she handled it politically Ayotte left a lot on the table and undercut the only friend who really came to her rescue when she was down.
In April, Ayotte voted against an amendment that would expand gun background checks, a measure polls shows was supported by three-quarters of Granite Stators. That caused protestors at town halls, and about $1.5 million in very critical ads against Ayotte. It was the first amount of widespread, sustained criticism she has ever endured.
The National Rifle Association backed up Ayotte, their television ad buy was small it had no impact. The only one who was in her corner in a way that mattered was Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who directed his political action committee to spend six figures defending.
Ayotte is playing Candyland while many in the Senate are playing chess. The way Ayotte played it, she did two things damaging politically.
First, she undercut Rubio. Lately Rubio is saying that while he was among those crafting the bill he wants the amendment process to beef up border security measures. Before Ayotte's announcement Rubio would have had a seat at the table to drive those changes. Now, immigration supporters can tell Rubio to buzz off because they have the 60 votes to do what they want.
Second, by going all in for it, she is now irrelevant in the next few weeks of immigration debate, for a few days of news coverage Sunday and Monday of her decision. If, instead, she said she generally favored the bill, but wanted to watch the amendment process, she would have received the same amount of headlines as a potential 60th vote, but reserved the right to vote against the bill. In that position, Ayotte could have crafted changes in the final bill. Just think what could have been. In the next few weeks a key border security amendment, let's call it the Rubio-Ayotte amendment, would have been a very high-profile way for Ayotte to show she can hold conservative principles and still get something big done by working with Democrats. Even Republicans who will disagree with her eventual vote for immigration reform would have to concede that she made the bill better and did it with Rubio, who is beloved in the Republican base.
Now she doesn't have that option and nor does Rubio.
When WMUR's Josh McElveen caught up Ayotte on Monday he asked if she "submarined" Rubio's efforts.
"I am confident that Sen. Rubio is going to support his piece of legislation because he drafted it," Ayotte said.
Because of Ayotte's play he may now have little choice.