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  • Staff Photo by Grant Morris

    Ovide Lamontagne and his wife, Bettie, stand in front of members of the media, Wednesday afternoon in the lobby of the Legislative Office Building in Concord for his official concession to Kelly Ayotte in the New Hampshire US Senate race where, last night, the numbers were to close to call the race.
  • Staff Photo by Grant Morris

    Surrounded by volunteers, friends and family, Kelly Ayotte accepts fellow US Senate candidate, Ovide Lamontagne's concession and official victory in her Manchester office, Wednesday afternoon.
  • Staff Photo by Grant Morris

    After accepting victory of the primary US Senate race and stepping away from the podium, Kelly Ayotte hugs Leann Moccia, of Atkinson, who she knew as the President of the Seacoast Republican Women when she was the Attorney General of the State of New Hampshire from 2004 to 2009.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel

    U.S. Senate candidate Kelly Ayotte holds her son Jacob before voting at the Charlotte Avenue School polls Tuesday, September 14, 2010.
  • Staff Photo by Grant Morris

    Ovide Lamontagne and his wife, Bettie, stand in front of members of the media, Wednesday afternoon in the lobby of the Legislative Office Building in Concord for his official concession to Kelly Ayotte in the New Hampshire US Senate race where, last night, the numbers were to close to call the race.
  • Staff Photo by Grant Morris

    Surrounded by volunteers, friends and family, Kelly Ayotte accepts fellow US Senate candidate, Ovide Lamontagne's concession and official victory in her Manchester office, Wednesday afternoon.
  • Staff Photo by Grant Morris

    After accepting victory of the primary US Senate race and stepping away from the podium, Kelly Ayotte hugs Leann Moccia, of Atkinson, who she knew as the President of the Seacoast Republican Women when she was the Attorney General of the State of New Hampshire from 2004 to 2009.
Thursday, September 16, 2010

GOP’s Ayotte, Dems’ Hodes tell who foe is

CONCORD – Former Attorney General Kelly Ayotte of Nashua won a roller-coaster, razor-thin Republican U.S. Senate primary over Manchester lawyer Ovide Lamontagne and quickly locked down support of all her major rivals in what had become a long, expensive, nerve-wracking campaign.

Within an hour of Ayotte securing the nomination Wednesday afternoon, the gloves came off in this nationally watched race for Ayotte, 42, and two-term Democratic congressman Paul Hodes of Concord, whom she faces in a general election just 47 days from today.

“Paul Hodes has voted for bailouts, failed stimulus spending, ever-increasing deficits, a trillion dollar government takeover of healthcare and huge tax increases” Ayotte told supporters at her Manchester headquarters.

“In fact, Paul Hodes voted with Nancy Pelosi 93 percent of the time. Ninety-three percent. I will vote with New Hampshire 100 percent of the time.”

Hodes said it’s Ayotte who is way out of the mainstream, having adopted an ultra-conservative agenda in a state that prefers independent thinking moderates in Washington.

“Like her political benefactor Sarah Palin, Kelly Ayotte wants to take us back to the failed economic policies that brought our economy to the brink of collapse,” Hodes, 59, said in his statement.

“She wants to preserve tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans and for companies that ship jobs overseas, expanding our deficits without helping the middle class. She would seek to overturn Roe v. Wade, denies global warming is a serious problem and would weaken Social Security.’’

A new, independent poll had Ayotte with 47 percent to Hodes with 43 percent, ending a streak of double-digit leads the new GOP nominee held for months leading up to this narrow victory.

“Although she remains the favorite in the race, it’s clear that the divisive primary has her in a much weaker position than five months ago and that this contest may be more competitive than has generally been accepted,” Public Policy Polling’s Tom Jensen wrote in his analysis of the findings from last weekend’s survey.

Lamontagne, 53, cleared the remaining hurdle to Ayotte’s victory, deciding not to seek a recount after the final returns had him losing by 1,667 votes or 1.2 percent behind Ayotte.

“While I am disappointed by the result, I humbly accept the verdict,” Lamontagne said to supporters at the Legislative Office Building.

During the campaign, Lamontagne said he was the “only real conservative” but said the stakes were too high to delay an all-out assault against Hodes as the next senator from New Hampshire.

“They don’t know what is going to hit them,” Lamontagne declared. A short time later he added, “What Paul Hodes is offering up is nothing like what the people of New Hampshire want.”

With all votes counted, Secretary of State Bill Gardner had Ayotte with 38.2 percent, Lamontagne with 37 percent, Bill Binnie, 52, of Rye with 14 percent, Jim Bender, 57, of Hollis with 9 percent, Dennis Lamare of Lee with 1 percent and Tom Alciere of Hudson, Gerard Beloin of New Boston and write-ins splitting the remaining eight-tenths of 1 percent.

Hodes ran unopposed in the Democratic primary.

Ayotte becomes the first Republican woman to win a statewide nomination in one of the closest Senate primaries in decades.

Lamontagne had surged from low single digits in the polls to near winner in the final 10 days of this GOP race that cost close to $10 million.

State and national parties quickly pounced on this race to replace three-term, Republican Sen. Judd Gregg, who announced 17 months ago he would retire this fall.

“In addition to opposing every single piece of legislation designed to create jobs and rebuild economy proposed this year, Kelly has continually altered her positions to fall in line with the radical fringe of the national Republican Party,” said N.H. Democratic Party Chairman Raymond Buckley.

“She has flip-flopped in numerous key issues including, stating that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act shouldn’t have been passed after eagerly using the funds as attorney general, and falsely claiming that global warming isn’t real after acknowledging the threat it posed just one year ago.

Texas Sen. John Cornyn, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, claimed Hodes would oppose the change voters across the country want.

“If voters like the direction in which Washington is moving, they should elect Paul Hodes,” Cornyn said. “But if they believe that we can do better than the status quo and they are tired of the reckless spending and bloated bureaucracy in Washington, they should choose Kelly Ayotte.”

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Robert Menedez noted President Obama won New Hampshire by 9 percent in 2008 and three-term Gov. John Lynch remains “extraordinary popular” before warning this fight must be quickly joined for Hodes to win it.

“But for Democrats to be successful in this campaign, we must be aggressive in defining the choice for voters,” Menedez warned in a memo to party supporters.

Despite the tight poll returns, PPP’s Jensen said the N.H. numbers reveal more enthusiasm in the GOP and the need for Hodes to get his base “better motivated.”

The overwhelming underdog Lamontagne spent $500,000, or less than a quarter of what Ayotte had and 12 times less than Binnie, who spent more than $6 million – including more than $5 million out of his pocket.

The self-made, multimillionaire Binnie spent at least $308 for every vote to the $9.73 per vote Lamontagne spent and about $55 Ayotte likely ended up spending to win.

Lamontagne called the narrative of some in the national media about his tea party candidacy a fiction though he won over many followers of what he called a “decentralized” movement in New Hampshire.

“I didn’t consider myself a tea party candidate,” Lamontagne said. “I’ve been a close activist in the Republican Party for 20 years.”

Ayotte thanked her family, staff and volunteers and vowed if successful to carry on Gregg’s legacy as a fiscal and anti-tax hawk.

“I ask you to roll up your sleeves as I will to win this election,” Ayotte urged.

“I am going to Washington to fight for you and take America back.”

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