The Republican leadership has long clashed on policy with the moderate Maine GOP Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins. GOP leadership’s decision to oppose Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s successful write-in bid after she lost the primary has soured the party’s relationship with Alaska’s senior Senator. And uncertainty surrounding Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s 2012 re-election bid, not to mention her 17 years of service, prevent Senate Republicans from using her as a fresh tool to help woo female voters.
Republican pollster Gene Ulm, a principal at Public Opinion Strategies, describes Ayotte as “a very scarce breed” who could help the GOP build on improvements with women in the 2010 cycle.
“I think it’s a powerful benchmark that Republicans have gotten gains back from independents and women, who we’ve been struggling with certainly for the last decade,” he said. “It’s no shock that Republicans do well amongst white men, but it’s what they do amongst white women and married women that wins most races. Kelly Ayotte is living proof of that.”
“She’s just an exceptional candidate,” Ulm said. “I think she’ll become a shining star.”
Women certainly made the difference for Obama, who won that demographic by 13 points in 2008, according to exit polling. But women broke evenly for Republicans and Democrats in the 2010 midterms, a huge shift, Ulm said.
“It’s women who gave Republicans the majority in the House,” he said.
Ayotte’s office declined repeated interview requests for this article.
But National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn wasn’t shy about praising the newly elected Senator and what she brings to the caucus.
“I think she’s an outstanding face and voice and presence for the Republican Party, as a mom, as a spouse of a fellow in the Air National Guard and a small-business owner,” the Texas lawmaker told Roll Call. “I think you’ll be seeing a lot more of her going forward.”
American University’s Lawless was critical of Republicans parading Ayotte around to reporters, but she acknowledged that it’s all part of the political process, especially given the leadership’s relationship with the other four Republican women.
“I would find it hard to believe that he would have even mentioned the parental or marital status of a male member of Congress,” she said of Alexander’s comments, which were echoed by Cornyn.
Still, Ayotte seems to be embracing the role.
“For Republicans, the start of the 112th Congress on Wednesday will mark the opening of a new chapter for our country and our party,” she said in the GOP’s first address of the year. “As the mother of two children, I’m like parents across the country who worry that our nearly $14 trillion dollar debt threatens America’s economic future, and our children’s future. Republicans are ready to lead that fight.”