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'Ayotte wins by 1,667 votes'

Last modified: 9/16/2010 12:00:00 AM
Former attorney general Kelly Ayotte edged out attorney Ovide Lamontagne to win the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in a surprisingly close race that was not decided until midday yesterday.

Ayotte beat Lamontagne by 1,667 votes, winning 38 percent of the vote to Lamontagne's 37 percent. Businessmen Bill Binnie and Jim Bender trailed with 14 percent and 9 percent, respectively. Dennis Lamare, Gerard Beloin and Tom Alciere each earned less than 1 percent of the vote.

An hour after Lamontagne announced that he would not ask for a recount, an exuberant and confident Ayotte was greeted at her Manchester headquarters by supporters chanting "Kelly." Immediately, Ayotte began her campaign against Democratic U.S. Rep. Paul Hodes, whom she will face in the November election.

"Put simply, this election is about two very different visions for the future of New Hampshire and our nation," Ayotte said. "Paul Hodes's vision is for increasing the size of government paid for with higher taxes, higher deficits, more spending and more Americans out of work. . . . (Mine) is a vision of individual opportunity and responsibility. It is one of less spending, lower taxes, and creating an environment in which our small businesses can grow and create jobs."

Ayotte said Lamontagne, Binnie, Bender and Lamare all called to congratulate her.

"Ovide was a gentleman in the race and a gentleman when he called to offer his support," Ayotte said.

It is clear that after a bitter, closely contested primary, state Republicans hope to put the last few months behind them and focus on the general election.

Lamontagne lost by less than 1.5 percentage points, which means he could have asked for a recount under state law. But Lamontagne said he would not do so, because he did not believe he had a chance at winning.

"In our American republic, the people are the sovereign. The people are the king," Lamontagne said. "The people of New Hampshire have spoken, and they have ruled. While I'm disappointed with the result, I humbly accept their verdict."

Lamontagne pledged to support Ayotte and urged his supporters to do the same.

Though some Democrats have suggested Ayotte will be weakened after winning by such a narrow margin in the primary, Lamontagne said he had a message for those Democrats: "When the Republican Party, grassroots activists, conservatives and independents get together and coalesce around the candidate who's now going to take the mantle of the conservative agenda in this election, they don't know what's going to hit them."

And so the general election campaign began. In her speech, Ayotte laid out a platform that focused heavily on the economic issues likely to dominate the campaign - cutting government spending, lowering taxes and helping small businesses create jobs by lessening government regulation. She cited the economy and the national debt as America's greatest challenges.

She previewed the lines of attack Republicans will use against Hodes in the next seven weeks, portraying him as a tax-and-spend Democrat who votes in lockstep with the Democratic Party.

"Paul Hodes has voted for bailouts, failed stimulus spending, ever-increasing deficits, a trillion-dollar government takeover of health care and huge tax increases," Ayotte said. "In fact, Paul Hodes voted with (Democratic House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi 93 percent of the time."

Hodes, in turn, tried to portray Ayotte as an "extreme right-wing candidate," seizing on former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin's endorsement of Ayotte.

"I am running for the United States Senate to be an independent voice for the people of New Hampshire, focused on creating jobs for middle-class families - not a voice for Sarah Palin's far-right-wing agenda, the Wall Street banks, the big oil companies and the other special interests attempting to trample our democracy," Hodes said.

Hodes criticized Ayotte for her positions on preserving tax breaks for wealthy Americans, for her pro-life stance and for denying global warming is a serious problem.

Hodes spokesman Mark Bergman said Ayotte's policies would "take the country back to the failed policies of the past."

Hodes, 59, a Concord lawyer, was elected to Congress in 2006 and served two terms before running for Senate. Though he has supported many of the Democratic Party's priorities - including President Obama's health care reform and federal stimulus spending - his campaign has tried to portray him as an independent thinker, citing positions such as his votes against congressional pay raises and against the so-called bailout of financial institutions.

Ayotte has been beating Hodes in the polls since the primary campaign started. Yesterday, the Hodes campaign sent around a new poll conducted by Public Policy Polling showing that Ayotte's previously large lead has narrowed to just four points.

Leaders in the state and national parties on both sides of the aisle quickly sent out messages of support for their candidates, in a race that is likely to be a center of attention nationally.

Both Hodes and Ayotte have already received large amounts of money from the leaders in their respective parties.

Hodes, who did not face a competitive primary, is entering the general election with $1.2 million cash on hand, having already spent $2.5 million, according to his Aug. 25 filing with the Federal Election Commission. Ayotte, who spent $2 million to win the Republican primary, has $823,000 cash on hand.

Correction: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story misstated the margin of victory in the race. Although the Associated Press had not finished compiling statewide results by yesterday evening, the secretary of state's office had already announced the official vote tally.


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