New Hampshire Braces for Ayotte Race in 2016

Ayotte is serving her first term. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

If there's anything to be gleaned from this week's edition of Roll Call's "Farm Team" series, it's that the most exciting Senate race of 2016 could take place in New Hampshire.

Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte is not even halfway through her first term, but Granite State Democrats are already sizing up their 2016 recruiting field — and state tea party activists are making noise about a primary challenge.

The stakes are two-fold for New Hampshire Republicans: Ayotte's re-election would help the party's image with women, and boost the GOP's decreasing reach in New England. As of this cycle, Ayotte and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, are the only two Republicans left in federal office from the region.

“There is no question in my mind that she will garner a primary challenger,” said [Jack] Kimball, a tea-party-aligned conservative who served a single year at the helm of the state’s GOP executive committee before members nearly ousted him. Ayotte’s allies argue that any tea party challenger will not be a viable contender. After all, they say, it’s been hard enough for local activists to find a tea party candidate who could threaten [Sen. Jeanne] Shaheen and Gov. Maggie Hassan this cycle — let alone a sitting GOP senator in 2016. Republicans concede they are worried about Ayotte’s prospects in the 2016 general election. Democrats frequently mention Hassan as a potential challenger, along with freshman Rep. Ann McLane Kuster, Rep. Carol Shea-Porter and former Gov. John Lynch.

Read more about the political state of play in New Hampshire in this week's Farm Team