In N.H., Rising GOP Star Sets Sights On Washington Former New Hampshire Attorney General Kelly Ayotte is seeking the GOP nomination for Senate. Her anti-Washington rhetoric seems to be resonating with voters in a state known for its fiscal conservatism and independence. But will her social conservatism and ties to the GOP establishment put off those same voters?
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In N.H., Rising GOP Star Sets Sights On Washington

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In N.H., Rising GOP Star Sets Sights On Washington

In N.H., Rising GOP Star Sets Sights On Washington

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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In our continuing series on the next generation of Republican leaders, NPR's Tovia Smith has this profile.

TOVIA SMITH: New Hampshire appoints its attorney general, so this is the first time 42-year-old Kelly Ayotte has ever run for political office.

SMITH: Nice to meet all of you tonight.

SMITH: And she's still getting used to the cameras and microphones swirling around her.

SMITH: It is quite a mike, isn't it? This doesn't happen everywhere else. I want you to know that this is unusual. So...


SMITH: At a town Republican committee meeting in Hudson, New Hampshire, Ayotte schmoozes voters at the town's new library.

SMITH: This is a beautiful facility. And this was a big donation then.

U: Yeah.

SMITH: What Ayotte is used to now is making that seamless pivot to her talking points.

U: In the library...

SMITH: Well, it's the volunteerism, and personal responsibility, you know.

U: Which we've really gotten away from.

SMITH: We have, unfortunately, looking at the government to solve every challenge.

SMITH: Ayotte is running on the promise to return the GOP to its core principles. Her stump speech is all about less government and lower taxes.

SMITH: We have seen, unfortunately, Republicans spend too much money. And we, I think, need to acknowledge that there are times when, as Republicans, we lost our way on that issue as well. So...

SMITH: Ayotte said she decided she had to run for Senate last year, when watching what she sees as the government's assault on small businesses and on middle class families like hers.

SMITH: We were yelling at our television, just frustrated that they don't get it in Washington. They think somehow the government's going to create the jobs. And I think it's a failure of leadership.

SMITH: She started the race well-known as a tough prosecutor. For example, seeking the death penalty against a cop killer. But politically, she's relatively unknown. She was appointed AG by both a Republican and a Democratic governor, and was apolitical in office, leaving voters, like Hudson Republican Party Chair Rick LeVasseur, with lots of questions about who Ayotte really is.

SMITH: Would you liken yourself more like a John McCain moderate or a Sarah Palin?


SMITH: Well, I have to tell you, I'm going to be - to take a line from Scott Brown - a Kelly Ayotte Republican.


SMITH: The ambiguity has left Ayotte open to knocks from Republicans skeptical of her conservative bona fides, and from Democrats who are already online with attack ads.


THE WHO: (Singing) Who are you? Who? Who? Who? Who? I really want to know. Who are you?

SMITH: For her part, Ayotte says she is pro-life, and she opposes gay marriage - in a state that's just made it legal. But she doesn't usually talk about it out on the stump. Republican State Representative Bob Haefner said it's a deliberate strategy in a state that has turned younger and more to the left in recent years.

HANSEN: I think the party has got to stay away from the social issues. I think the fiscal issues will attract independent voters, unless you start bringing in the social issues, and then you're going to lose them.

SMITH: Another thing New Hampshire's fiercely independent voters may not like is the way Ayotte seems to be the establishment's chosen candidate. Ayotte was heavily recruited by party leaders in Washington, and has benefited from big-name fundraisers in D.C. and New Hampshire.


SMITH: So without further ado, Senator John McCain.


HANSEN: Thank you, Kelly. Thank you all.

SMITH: Earlier this month, Senator McCain flew in to rally for Ayotte, promoting her as the next generation of leadership of the Republican party.

HANSEN: Kelly is going to make an outstanding, wonderful, effective United States senator that I will be proud to serve with.


HANSEN: Thank you very much.

SMITH: Tovia Smith, NPR News.

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