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Ayotte Holds Firm on Court



Valley News Staff Writer
Monday, March 07, 2016
North Haverhill — U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., defended her uncompromising stance on the appointment of a new Supreme Court justice at a campaign stop here on Friday morning, saying her refusal to consider a nominee from President Obama was not inconsistent with her past pledge to consider judicial candidates on their merits.

Republican leaders in the Senate have been adamant in the weeks since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia that they will not hold hearings on an Obama nominee, and Ayotte has adopted that position.

At VFW Post 5245 on Friday morning, Ayotte disputed accusations by Democrats that she had backtracked on a pledge she made during her campaign six years ago, when she said she would “look at each justice on the merits” and “participate in the hearings” for Supreme Court appointments.

“I believe that our confirmation should go forward after the people have spoken in the November election,” she said in an interview after the campaign event. “So I don’t see any(thing) inconsistent with that, because I’ve shown in my consideration of (Obama) appointees throughout this term that I do look at people on the merits of their qualifications.”

She added, “But we’re talking about a presidential year, and a Supreme Court appointment that I believe the people of this country should weigh in on — based on the consequences of the presidential election on which direction they would like the court to go.”

Ayotte is up for re-election in November and likely will face two-term Democrat Gov. Maggie Hassan in what is expected to be a closely contested race. Hassan has criticized the incumbent senator for hewing to Republican leadership’s position on a high court appointment.

“(Ayotte) is refusing to do her job, she is saying essentially no matter who the president nominates, she is so sure that that nomination isn’t going to be accepted, she won’t even meet with the nominee,” Hassan said in a meeting with the Portsmouth Herald editorial board earlier this week. “That’s a level of distrust and partisanship that is unacceptable.”

On Friday, Ayotte, who was elected in the Tea Party wave of the 2010 midterm, brought colleagues Sens. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., to North Haverhill to campaign. The trio, who comprise half of the Republican women in the Senate, billed themselves as the “Kelly-Shelley-Joni Show.”

Speaking to an audience of about 50, Ernst and Capito urged voters to turn out for Ayotte and worked in many a criticism of Hassan along the way.

Ernst, in particular, went after Hassan on her lack of experience with national security compared to Ayotte, who sits on the Armed Services and Homeland Security committees. Ernst highlighted Ayotte’s opposition to Obama’s plan to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay — “No terrorist should hear the words: You have the right to remain silent,” Ayotte, a former prosecutor, said earlier on Friday.

Ernst said Hassan had avoided taking a firm position on Guantanamo and other security-related issues.

“I would love to hear your governor asked these questions and get a straight answer on how she differs from the president on this,” she said.

In fact, Hassan last month said she opposes President Obama’s proposal to close the terrorist detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.

A poll from the University of New Hampshire and WMUR released Wednesday shows Ayotte and Hassan statistically deadlocked among New Hampshire voters, though there is room for significant movement in the race. Roughly 70 percent of poll respondents said they were undecided.

Both women have favorability ratings around 50 percent.

Linda Fowler, a political analyst and professor of government at Dartmouth College, said it is possible that Ayotte’s inflexibility on an Obama court nominee could hurt her with swing voters in a close election.

“Independents don’t like this stuff,” Fowler said. “They’re bothered by violations of procedural fairness.”

A recent poll from CNN and ORC International found that 58 percent of voters nationally felt that Obama should nominate a replacement for Scalia, and 66 percent said the Senate should hold hearings when he does.

It is unclear, however, how much sway the court vacancy issue will have on Granite Staters in November, Fowler said.

Given that the Ayotte-Hassan contest is “already one of the marquee races in the country,” she said, “... it’s hard to imagine that it’ll get any more scrutiny than what it would have been getting with the Supreme Court issue.”

Fowler said that whoever the eventual Republican presidential nominee is — particularly if it is controversial billionaire Donald Trump — would have a bigger effect on the race. This winter, Ayotte, who did not make an endorsement in last month’s New Hampshire primary, has said that she intends to support the party’s nominee in the fall.

“I think it’s very difficult for any of these issues to have staying power with the frenzy over the nominee,” Fowler said. “If (Trump’s) the nominee, we probably won’t get to thinking about the Senate races much.”

Fowler did note that Ayotte has taken steps in past months to distance herself from her party on certain issues, including centrist stances on climate change and environmental conservation, as well as a high-profile collaboration with fellow New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, on opioid abuse.

Hassan, too, has sought to demonstrate independence from her party. She called for a halt to Syrian refugees’ entering the country following the terrorist attacks in Paris, putting her at odds with Obama’s call to allow some of those displaced by the civil war in Syria to relocate to the United States..

Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.

Correction

Gov. Maggie Hassan last month said she opposes President Obama’s proposal to close the terrorist detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. An earlier version of this story included an outdated description of her position.