×

After brief moment of unity, candidates ready for showdown

  • Gov. Maggie Hassan, Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, addresses a crowd during a campaign event for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on Sunday in Manchester. AP

  • Candidates for U.S. Senate, New Hampshire's Democrat Gov. Maggie Hassan, left listens as incumbent Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte speaks during a forum with business leaders Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2016, in Manchester, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole) Jim Cole—AP

  • Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte walks away from reporters in Hudson last month after telling them she “misspoke” when she said Donald Trump is a role model for children during a live televised debate. Jim Cole / AP file



Monitor staff
Sunday, November 06, 2016

The gesture was a simple one.

As the beating rain picked up, Maggie Hassan moved closer to Kelly Ayotte, shielding the both of them under her navy umbrella while they bowed their heads in prayer at the start of a veterans memorial road race.

It was a rare scene in the final 48 hours of a U.S. Senate race that has become one of the most fiercely competitive in the country.

When the brief invocation ended, it was back to game on. Ayotte, wearing pink-laced sneakers, removed her heavy coat and readied to run the 5k in Exeter. Hassan, accompanied by her 23-year-old daughter Meg, smiled and posed for pictures with attendees.

The candidates are maintaining punishing schedules – cross-crossing the state to visit grocery stores, diners and local breweries – to meet as many voters possible in the final stretch of the campaign.

Polls show a tight race, and outside groups have funneled millions of dollars into the battle, which could decide party control of the U.S. Senate.

The candidates are casting themselves as bipartisan workers in the final days but are taking different tacks on the campaign trail.

Hassan, the state’s Democratic governor, is making appearances alongside big-name party members including Hillary Clinton and President Obama. Meanwhile, Ayotte, the Republican incumbent who denounced party presidential nominee Donald Trump last month, has largely hit the trail solo.

Hassan visits and tours grocery stores, diners or restaurants. Ayotte participates, working the drive-thru window at a fast-food chain or running in a charity race.

On the trail

Hassan began Sunday morning winding her way through the crowded, wooden booths at Blake’s Restaurant in Manchester, a popular breakfast spot.

Smiling, she stopped at each table, extended her hand and said hello to the seated diners, even those who said from the start they would pick Ayotte.

“Just make sure you get out and vote,” Hassan repeated to everyone she met. She walked the one-room restaurant under the watchful eye of a state trooper who guards her. The Democrat was encouraged by dozens of patrons, some who said they chose Hassan for her pro-union or pro-abortion rights stances.

“She has done a good job as governor,” said Robin Boots, a Democratic diner in her 60’s. “No way I could vote for Kelly Ayotte. She says she is bipartisan, I don’t see that.”

By the evening, Hassan traded in the low-key restaurant for a booming arena, where she criticized Ayotte while introducing Clinton before thousands of screaming supporters.

“Sen. Ayotte has supported the corporate special interest agenda,” Hassan said in front of a crowd that spilled from one cavernous room at the Radisson in Manchester into the next. “I am ready to change that.”

Hassan also got back up. Musical guest James Taylor mentioned the Democrat twice by name, including once calling her “Senator Hassan,” in a rendition of “You’ve Got a Friend.” Without naming Ayotte, Clinton said she trusts voters to elect Hassan. “Maggie will bring a wealth of experience to Washington,” Clinton said, before endorsing the rest of the state’s Democratic candidates.

The contest between Ayotte and Hassan has been flooded by attack ads, mostly funded by outside groups. But neither candidate, when speaking one-on-one with voters at retail stops over the weekend, invoked the other’s name.

Ayotte moved between events Sunday in a charter bus plastered with her picture and campaign slogans. The Republican is planning to make 27 stops in 24 hours leading to Tuesday. “I have a sense of purpose and I love meeting people in New Hampshire, so it energizes me,” Ayotte said. Though the Monster energy drinks stocked inside the bus also help.

After completing the road race with Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Sununu in 28 minutes, Ayotte showered at a staffer’s house and then appeared at Throwback Brewery in North Hampton an hour later.

“Do you have any questions for me?” Ayotte asked almost every voter she met at the restored sheep barn turned brewery, where about half the patrons didn’t know she was paying a visit. Democrat Kirscia Garofalo took her up, asking Ayotte why she voted against funding for Planned Parenthood. The Republican explained a bill she filed to make birth control available over the counter and won Garofalo’s vote.

Ayotte left the brewery after 45 minutes without getting a beer. She then skipped an evening event with Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence, in favor of campaign stops at Buffalo Wild Wings and the Puritan Backroom in Manchester.

Ayotte has said she will write in Pence for president. While Trump’s candidacy has dogged her own race, Ayotte didn’t face any voter questions about the businessman at the brewery.

She was momentarily stumped when a reporter asked whether running the 5k or running for Senate was more difficult. Senate, she said after a brief pause. “I’m ready for the finish.”

(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or amorris@cmonitor.com.)