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  • Photo by Dean Shalhoup

    U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-NH, makes a point while endorsing Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney Sunday in front of Nashua City Hall. Romney, at right, was cheered by the roughly 100 supporters who turned out.
  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte talks about legislation she helped write to prevent across the board military cuts, during a press conference Wednesday, February 22, 2012, at BAE Systems in Nashua.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Ayotte flattered by vice president rumors, but focused on Senate

As Nashua native Kelly Ayotte’s name was being bandied about on national TV Sunday morning as a potential running mate for Mitt Romney, the freshman Republican senator missed it.

“I couldn’t get my kids to turn off the cartoons so I could see it,” Ayotte quipped Monday.

Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, returns to New Hampshire on Tuesday, as speculation heats up that Ayotte could be a contender to join him on the 2012 ticket.

Her mention as a “dark horse” candidate by MSNBC political editor Chuck Todd on “Meet The Press” Sunday was the latest of many times the 43-year-old Ayotte has been part of the vice president conversation in recent weeks.

During an interview with The Telegraph on Monday, Ayotte said a Senate colleague emailed her about the “Meet The Press” highlight, but son, Jake, and daughter, Katherine, couldn’t be bothered.

Seriously, Ayotte said she’s flattered to be brought up, but maintained her focus is on representing New Hampshire in the Senate.

“I just got elected to the Senate by the good people of New Hampshire and that has been and will continue to be my only focus,” Ayotte said. “Governor Romney is going to be a terrific president because he’ll turn this economy around just like he did his home state and the Olympics.”

Ayotte already has served as a stand-in speaker for Romney, most recently to a GOP crowd in the battleground state of Ohio last month after Romney won that state’s primary.

Romney will speak to a rally at the Radisson Hotel in Manchester on Tuesday after five states are expected to deliver enough delegates that will, for all practical political purposes, cement him as the GOP nominee.

“The campaign is coming full circle. He started the primary phase at former House Speaker Doug Scamman’s farm in Stratham last summer and returns to New Hampshire to begin the general election,” said Ryan Williams, Romney’s campaign spokesman.

In November, Romney name-dropped Ayotte among a long list of 15 possible running mates during an interview with Fox News.

Earlier this month the National Journal called Ayotte the “sleeper candidate.”

“New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte isn’t a household name inside the Beltway, but has a resume that should instantly attract attention from Romney advisers,” wrote Josh Kraushaar. “The first female Attorney General in New Hampshire history, she prosecuted several high-profile murder cases and won plaudits from Republicans and Democrats alike – including the state’s Democratic governor John Lynch.”

Romney recently named Beth Myers, his former gubernatorial chief of staff, to head the search for who will be alongside him to go up against President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.

“Kelly Ayotte has been a greet surrogate for Governor Romney and has a bright future in Republican politics,” Williams said.

“Beth Myers will do a thorough and comprehensive search and there are a lot of qualified candidates who would make excellent vice presidential picks but it’s too early to speculate on all that.”

Critics point to the lack of demographic logic for the former Massachusetts governor Romney to pick a US senator from neighboring New Hampshire.

“Kelly Ayotte has gotten off to a very strong start as a new senator but it makes no sense to have a running mate team coming from adjoining states,” said Jim Demers, a top adviser to then-candidate Barack Obama’s winning campaign in 2008.

In 1992, however, former Ark. Gov. Bill Clinton picked a U.S. senator right next to him in then-Tennessee Sen. Al Gore.

What may pique the Romney camp’s interest is that at this early stage Obama holds a commanding lead over the challenger among women, up by 12 points in last week’s NBC News-Wall Street Journal survey.

“In some ways I think it would be Mitt Romney’s idea of a bold choice,” said Dante Scala, chairman of the political science department at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. “She’s popular among social conservatives, she’s button down, risk adverse and would never show up the candidate.”

Collin Gately, press secretary for the New Hampshire Democratic Party, argued that Ayotte can’t help Romney.

“If Kelly Ayotte stepped down from the Senate to campaign, this might be good news for New Hampshire, but Ayotte would be bad news for Mitt Romney,” Gately said. “She won’t help his problem with women voters or with New Hampshire voters. Romney and Ayotte are both out-of-step with middle-class families.”

Ayotte said Obama’s attack on Romney with women voters will backfire.

“Governor Romney’s record will prove to be very strong with women voters and all voters,” Ayotte said. “Women have experienced large job losses with this Obama recession and women voters share not just my concerns about turning around this economy but the deplorable fiscal shape of this country.”

David Lang, New Hampshire president of the Professional Association of Fire Fighters, said relative inexperience could be Ayotte’s biggest drawback.

“It makes sense to drop a woman’s name but what woman?” Lang asked rhetorically. “Running on a ticket is bigtime scrutiny and pressure and I’m not sure we’ve seen Kelly Ayotte have to endure it at this level.”

Kevin Landrigan can reached at 321-7040 or Also, follow Landrigan (@KLandrigan) on Twitter.