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Capital Beat: Sen. Kelly Ayotte takes center stage – again and again

It can’t be long before U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte gets her cameo on Sesame Street and joins the ranks of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and first ladies Barbara Bush and Michelle Obama. She proved last week she sure doesn’t need Mitt Romney to get the nation’s attention.

Ayotte has taken center stage as the Republicans question whether President Obama’s administration dropped the ball in protecting the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.

Ayotte was on CNN and NBC last week. She got props from a Washington Post columnist. And she was at Sen. John McCain’s side at a widely covered press conference calling for Congress to centralize and coordinate the investigation of the September terrorist attack on the consulate that left the U.S. ambassador and three others dead.

Leaving that inquiry to just Obama and his team was unacceptable, Ayotte told the national media. They’ve done nothing but put out misinformation, Ayotte said.

“When four brave Americans are murdered as a result of a terrorist attack, there is nothing more American or more important responsibility of Congress to get to the bottom of it,” Ayotte said. “We owe it to the American people to make sure we understand exactly what happened and what went wrong.”

Washington Post writer Jennifer Rubin praised McCain, Ayotte and Sen. Lindsey Graham, who was also part of the press conference.

“These three senators are sober adults, maybe on the only ones on the Hill with the determination, knowledge and the authority to do what the press and the administration refused to do,” Rubin wrote. And that would be, “Uncover the complete account of the entire Libyan episode so we can learn from it and shape policy accordingly.”

It’s a natural role for Ayotte as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Plus, as the state’s former attorney general, she

knows something about investigations. What caught our attention was how good she’s gotten at it.

She didn’t hesitate when Andrea Mitchell of MSNBC asked her to respond to Romney’s recent comments that Obama won the election by giving his votes the “gifts” of health-care reform, contraception coverage and assurances young undocumented immigrants won’t be deported. Throughout the presidential election, Ayotte was one of Romney’s most valuable surrogates.

“I don’t agree with his comments,” Ayotte told Mitchell. “I think the campaign is over, and what the voters are looking for us to do is accept their votes and go forward. We’ve got some big challenges that need to be resolved.”

Ayotte echoed that sentiment yesterday when she delivered the Republican weekly address. It’s the second time she’s delivered it since January 2011.

“We’ve had a spirited debate this year about the future of our country,” Ayotte said. “And one thing is clear: the American people expect Republicans and Democrats to work together to solve the difficult challenges we face. For too long, partisan bickering has paralyzed Washington – preventing members of both parties from reaching across the aisle to find common ground. That must stop. Power-sharing is an opportunity – not an obstacle. And getting our fiscal house in order is where we need to start.”

Speaking of getting along

The state’s political parties are already trading jabs at the other’s candidate for House speaker.

After the Republicans elected Rep. Gene Chandler of Bartlett Thursday, state Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley called Chandler a “loyal ally of the Tea Party and (House Speaker Bill) O’Brien.”

O’Brien had actually backed Chandler’s opponent, Rep. Pam Tucker of Greenland.

And yesterday, the state Republican Party issued a testy little statement after the Democrats elected Rep. Terie Norelli their speaker candidate.

Republican Party Chairman Wayne MacDonald faulted Norelli for not demanded the resignation of another lawmaker in 2010 after he was accused of ethic violations.

“The Democrat leadership in the House will no doubt be ethically challenged,” said MacDonald. “Another term for Speaker Norelli will continue this thread of lies and deceit for the New Hampshire taxpayers.”

Do we need to start 2013 with a refresher on bipartisanship?

The (lingerie) war on women

Rep. Gary Hopper, a Weare Republican, will never get accused of political correctness.

Earlier this year, he was captured by WMUR on the House floor with a tabloid newspaper opened to a giant picture of a sexy woman holding a shotgun. The article, presumably, was about shotguns.

This week, he had some fun with the War on Women on his public Facebook page.

“Republicans need to stop the war on woman (sic),” Hopper wrote. “Maybe we should just have a tackle football game against woman?”

This suggestion was accompanied a picture of three women dressed only in lingerie and a little football gear. Very little.

Long shots

President Ayotte? How about President Maggie Hassan?

The Huffington Post seems to think it’s possible.

The website last week pulled together a slide show of 20 women it described as “potential candidates” for president in 2016. Among them: Ayotte, a Republican elected to the Senate in 2010, and Hassan, the Democratic governor-elect.

Also making the cut: Michelle Obama, Sarah Palin and, of course, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

We asked spokesmen for Hassan and Ayotte for comment on the presidential speculation, but didn’t hear back Friday.

Fireside chat

Who wouldn’t want to spend an evening with Craig Benson, Steve Merrill and John H. Sununu?

The three former GOP governors will hold a “fireside chat” at the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy’s second annual dinner, scheduled for Dec. 4 at the Grappone Conference Center in Concord.

“After a long campaign season, we hope people will enjoy hearing three wise friends of ours in a fun and freewheeling chat about the future of the state,” said Rich Ashooh, the center’s chairman.

Retiring Executive Councilor Ray Wieczorek will also be at the dinner, where he will receive the center’s 2012 Libertas Award.

Pat’s back

Also on the local dinner circuit: Pat Buchanan, who will headline the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications’s First Amendment Awards at the Capitol Center for the Arts on Nov. 29.

David Lang, president of the Professional Fire Fighters of New Hampshire, and his union will be getting the First Amendment Award. Debi Clark Valentine, of the YMCA of Greater Manchester, is getting the school’s Quill & Ink Award.

Tickets cost $50, or $75 for the event plus the “Free Press Reception.”

New on the block

Meet Prospect Hill Strategies, a new “government, public affairs, and business development consulting firm” that launched last week.

It’s run by David Cuzzi, a former aide to then-U.S. Sen. John E. Sununu and then-U.S. Rep. Bill Zeliff who also worked on Bob Dole’s 1996 presidential campaign.

(Annmaire Timmins can be reached at 369-3323, on Twitter @annmarietimmins or at atimmins@cmonitor.com. Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 on Twitter @benleubsdorf or at bleubsdorf@cmonitor.com.)

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