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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Hopeful fires attack TV ad against Ayotte

CONCORD – The Republican campaign for U.S. Senate exploded into an all-out ad war Tuesday as Rye businessman Bill Binnie fired his first TV attack ad against Kelly Ayotte, of Nashua, for her handling of the Lakes Region Ponzi scheme.

Binnie made this expensive, strategic shift a day after Republican State Chairman John H. Sununu urged all GOP candidates to avoid negative attacks against one another.

In a statement Tuesday, Binnie said Sununu’s call was “sadly too late.” Binnie had first been the victim of attack ads from Cornerstone Action, a socially conservative interest group.

The new Binnie ad that’s critical of Ayotte features three victims of the Financial Resources Mortgage scandal that federal investigators allege defrauded more than 150 investors of up to $80 million.

“This is a lack of enforcement behavior on the part of Kelly Ayotte,” said FRM investor Al McElvane, 70, of Kittery, Maine.

His wife, Susan, added, “She destroyed a way of life for hundreds of people because of her inactions.”

Ayotte, a former attorney general, said she had not known the AG’s office referred consumer complaints about FRM to state banking officials before FRM filed for bankruptcy in November.

Meanwhile, Ayotte’s campaign is airing its own new commercial in which the candidate promotes her credentials as a fiscal conservative and makes no reference to these latest attacks.

Binnie ramped up his TV advertising buy on both Boston and New Hampshire outlets for this effort. According to informed sources, Binnie’s campaign bought more than $430,000 over the next week.

Two weeks ago, Binnie’s campaign spent about $90,000 on his ads.

Ayotte’s ad will air only on New Hampshire television network and cable outlets. Both campaigns declined to confirm specifics on their advertising budgets.

The Ayotte campaign fired back hard at Binnie’s commercial through its spokesman Jeff Grappone.

“Bill Binnie’s second attack is taken straight out of Paul Hodes’ dirty playbook. Apparently Binnie and Hodes have a lot more in common than just the same liberal positions,” Grappone said.

“They both know the only way they can win is to falsely attack Kelly Ayotte.”

Over the span of a several weeks, Democratic Senate candidate Paul Hodes of Concord spent more than $200,000 on two different ads critical of Ayotte on FRM.

Unlike those, Binnie convinced victims to go on camera and criticize Ayotte for a failing of oversight.

“I was diagnosed with leukemia seven years ago,” Ronnie Dean, 47, says in the ad. “This money, which I had to secure my family, is gone.”

After Hodes lodged the attack spots, polls showed him closing the gap between him and his GOP opponents.

Dick Bennett, president of American Research Group of Manchester, said the Hodes attacks moved some independent voters away from Ayotte.

But Bennett questioned whether this Binnie ad would push likely GOP primary voters.

“This looks like Binnie knows he’s behind. He figures his only way to get back in the race is to try and convince voters that she’s part of the problem,” Bennett said.

“The trouble is, FRM is not what’s first on the minds of those who will cast a Republican ballot next month.”

In an e-mail to supporters, Binnie said he had no choice but to go on the offensive.

“Today Gov. Sununu, chairman of the Republican Party, sent a letter to all candidates for U.S. Senate and other offices, urging the campaigns to stick to the issues and not to engage in comparative or negative campaigning. It is a great idea, but sadly too late,” Binnie said.

Last week, a Binnie supporter filed a Federal Election Commission complaint claiming Ayotte’s campaign was linked to the Cornerstone attack ad. Both Cornerstone and the Ayotte campaign have denied there was any collusion.

“To ask for candidates to be positive and not to recognize that some campaigns have been viciously negative for weeks is to blatantly close one’s eyes to reality,” Binnie said.

In response, Sununu, the former governor, issued another statement Tuesday.

“I am obviously disappointed at the attack ads that are now running in our Republican Senate primary.  I continue to be hopeful that all candidates in that race will make it a primary worth winning,” Sununu oncluded.

“I am confident that our outstanding Republicans candidates will soon discover that negative ads bite both ways. New Hampshire Republican primary voters, and the independents that will vote in our primary, usually vote against those who rely on negative campaigning.”

Kevin Landrigan can be reached at 321-7040 or klandrigan@nashuatelegraph.com.