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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Palin endorses Ayotte, hits rivals in Senate race

CONCORD – Republican vice presidential nominee and ex-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin on Monday simultaneously endorsed GOP Senate hopeful Kelly Ayotte of Nashua and slapped around Ayotte’s two main rivals for the job.

Palin posted on her Facebook page a surprise endorsement in this crowded primary to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Judd Gregg.

“It’s my honor to endorse a Granite State “mama grizzly” who has broken barriers, fought off and locked up criminals, and battled all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to protect the rights of New Hampshire parents – and won,” Palin wrote.

“New Hampshire is lucky to have Kelly Ayotte as a candidate for the U.S. Senate this year.”

The Supreme Court reference is Ayotte’s argument for New Hampshire parental notification prior to a minor girl’s abortion legislation the justices found to be unconstitutional.

Obviously, Ayotte welcomed the backing of Palin who, as a running mate of John McCain, campaigned in New Hampshire before large crowds at three rallies leading up to the 2008 fall general election.

“Gov. Palin is a conservative icon who has brought enormous energy to our party. As governor, she took on the entrenched special interests to deliver results,” Ayotte said in a statement.

“Gov. Palin is a reformer in every sense of the word, and she has always stood firm for the conservative principles of low taxes, less spending and personal responsibility. I’m running for Senate to put our fiscal house in order and to get our country moving in the right direction again, and I’m honored to have her support.”

Like a mother bear protecting her cub, Palin then criticized two of Ayotte’s rivals, Democratic Rep. Paul Hodes for lying about Ayotte’s record and Bill Binnie for playing the role of a real Republican.

“This pro-life, pro-family, anti-tax constitutional common sense conservative is the Democrats’ biggest fear in November. They’re already running false ads against her weeks before even the primary election,” Palin said of the Hodes attack ad against Ayotte.

“And on top of that Kelly is facing attacks from a self-funded millionaire running with an R next to his name who likes Obamacare and cap-and-tax.”

The Binnie campaign denied that stance and tried to lump Palin and Ayotte as creatures of Washington.

“It is unfortunate that Sarah Palin and Kelly Ayotte today made inaccurate characterizations about Bill Binnie’s positions,” said Bryan Lanza, Binnie’s campaign manager. “Bill’s made it very clear throughout this campaign that he opposes Obamacare because we need to have free market solutions to improve quality and access to health care. For example, Bill supports the ability for businesses to buy insurance across state lines, unlike Kelly Ayotte who opposed this measure as attorney general.”

In his own statement Binne said, “I have consistently said throughout my campaign that I will win this race in Tilton, N.H., and not Washington, D.C.”

GOP candidate Ovide Lamontagne of Manchester pulled no punches in condemning Palin for endorsing Ayotte.

“I am not at all surprised by today’s endorsement. This is not the first time that Go. Palin has endorsed an establishment candidate over an authentic conservative in a primary, as she has done today,” Lamontagne said in a statement.

“I have great respect for Gov. Palin and her contributions to our party, but today, she endorsed a liberal in Kelly Ayotte who embraced the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor, who previously supported earmarks before her election year conversion, who administered and encouraged the Obama stimulus in New Hampshire and who authorized the unconstitutional Kelo-style government theft of $110 million in private funds.”

Kelo v. City of New London (Conn.) was a 2005 case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court involving the use of eminent domain to transfer land from one private owner to another to further economic development.

Hodes communications director Mark Bergman said Palin and Ayotte are a perfect, dysfunctional fit.

“New Hampshire voters have already rejected Palin’s extreme, out-of-touch agenda,” Bergman said.

“Kelly Ayotte and Sarah Palin are both radical right-wing politicians more interested in grabbing headlines than getting results for the people they serve. Today’s endorsement shows that Kelly Ayotte is just a mouthpiece for the radical right wing of the Republican Party who are out of touch with New Hampshire voters.”

Clearly, the endorsement of Ayotte is more for what it is not – not just another establishment, status quo GOP figure embracing the front-runner who’s facing the fight of her life in this Sept. 14 primary.

Ayotte already had the backing of the last three Republican governors – Craig Benson, Steve Merrill and retiring Sen. Gregg – along with former Sen. Warren Rudman and all 10 county sheriffs.

“Sarah Palin polls very well in N.H. She has a lot of grassroots supporters,” said Neil Levesque, executive director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics on the Saint Anselm College campus. “I think people will take a look and say, ‘She likes her, maybe I should.’ ”

Palin could bring some street credibility to Ayotte as a bomb-tossing maverick and movement conservative just when her rivals have started labeling Ayotte as an out-of-touch insider, said one pollster.

“You would think it would help in the fight that Ayotte is in. It’s hard to tell who that Republican primary voter is going to be,” said Dick Bennett, president of the American Research Group.

“People are angry, and maybe Sarah Palin can help try to convince voters that Ayotte is really an outsider, not an insider.”

On the flip side, Ayotte’s tightening race with Binnie has forced the GOP front-runner to move even further to the right, observers said. This will require some deft tacking from Ayotte for the general election should she become the GOP nominee.

In this campaign, Binnie has tried to reinforce his opposition to Obama’s universal health care and energy charge increases resulting from climate change legislation.

Ayotte can also gain access to Palin’s significantly long list of small donor supporters that will help rebuild the war chest.

In the last quarter, Ayotte raised $772,000 but spent 8 percent more to keep the campaign lights on and to fire back an attack ad at Hodes.

With seven weeks to the primary, Binnie and Ayotte have the same amount of cash on hand, about $1.2 million. But while Ayotte is spending days raising much of her money in Washington and New York, Binnie has already donated $3.5 million to the campaign kitty and is prepared to spend much more than that in hopes of scoring what would be a huge, upset victory.

“Kelly is the strongest common-sense conservative who can win in the fall,” Palin concluded. “I knew I liked her when I met her earlier this year, and I know this Granite Grizzly will represent New Hampshire with distinction in Washington.”

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