Senate Republicans view New Hampshire frontrunner Kelly Ayotte as a key political asset as the GOP looks to make inroads with female voters and independents.
Ayotte has the backing of former vice presidential candidate and tea party doyenne Sarah Palin, yet aides note that she has maintained a sense of moderate appeal in ways that other conservatives, such as Nevada’s Sharron Angle and Delaware’s Christine O’Donnell, have not.
A 42-year-old mother of two and wife of an Iraq War veteran, Ayotte’s personal background is attractive to Senate GOP leaders who want a fresh face to help boost their message strategy next year.
“The addition of a Republican woman from New England who’s young, who’s a mom,” one senior GOP aide said, “all of these things broaden the Republican party’s appeal and say to different segments of the population, ‘This party has folks in it that are just like you.’”
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) previously carried that role for Republicans, and she did so more visibly after becoming Conference vice chairwoman in 2009. But the GOP’s lone female leader resigned her post after losing her party’s primary to Joe Miller in August and deciding to pursue a write-in campaign for the general election. While some Republicans suggested Murkowski be replaced by another female Senator, the caucus elected Sen. John Barrasso (Wyo.) to the leadership job instead.
Neither of Maine’s GOP Senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, have leadership aspirations, and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas) already had her time in elected leadership, first as Conference vice chairwoman in 2001 and later as Republican Policy Committee chairwoman in 2007. Senate Republicans currently have no female legislators in their leadership ranks, while Democrats have several, including Conference Secretary Patty Murray (Wash.) and Steering and Outreach Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (Mich.).
This election cycle, in which Democrats are expected to lose at least one of their female Members, Sen. Blanche Lincoln (Ark.), and the GOP is running four female candidates, Republicans consider Ayotte to have great potential as the symbol of a new trend. The fact that she hails from New Hampshire, a state crucial in presidential politics, makes her even more attractive as a GOP spokeswoman in the Senate.
“Having a younger, dynamic female Senator in New Hampshire, I’m sure her name ID will go up as we go into that presidential cycle because there are going to be so many national names going into the state that will play into it as well,” one campaign operative said.
Indeed, nearly the entire Republican field of possible 2012 presidential contenders has come out to support Ayotte. In addition to Palin, former presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) visited the Granite State twice for Ayotte. Sens. John Thune (S.D.) and Tom Coburn (Okla.) held a fundraiser for her in New York this month, and she has been endorsed by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.