On the trail: Is Ayotte inching closer to running in 2022?

For the Monitor
Published: 1/23/2021 4:47:34 PM

Former Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte was back in the political spotlight last week.

Ayotte, who served as the Granite State’s attorney general before winning election to the U.S. Senate in 2010, testified on Thursday in support of Attorney General Gordon MacDonald’s nomination to serve as New Hampshire Supreme Court chief justice.

“This is really not about his exceptional qualifications. It’s really about his character and the things you can’t learn in school,” Ayotte said as she praised MacDonald at the public hearing held. “He will serve, if you see fit to confirm him, as someone who is fair, balanced and will never let personal views influence him.”

The next day, MacDonald was confirmed through a 4-1 vote by the Executive Council.

Ayotte’s testimony was the latest example of her increasing political and policy profile over the past year.

Her testimony landed as speculation mounts over whether Ayotte will launch a Republican challenge against Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan. Hassan, a two-term governor, defeated Ayotte by a razor thin margin of just 1,017 votes in 2016. There’s also speculation that Ayotte may run for governor if current popular three-term GOP Gov. Chris Sununu decides to seek the Senate seat or decides not to run for elected office in 2022.

As Republicans aim to win back the majority in the Senate from the Democrats in 2022, they’ll be defending 20 of the 34 seats up for grabs in the next midterm elections. As they play plenty of defense, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the re-election arm of Senate Republicans, sees Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, and New Hampshire as potential pick up opportunities to flip a blue seat red. Sununu and Ayotte are both on the radar of national Republicans.

Sununu said last month that he wouldn’t have a decision on 2022 anytime soon. It’s unlikely the governor would make any announcements until after the current legislative session concludes and after the state’s next two-year budget is hammered out and signed into law.

It’s nearly certain that Ayotte would have discussions with Sununu regarding the political map in the 2022 elections.

After her 2016 defeat, Ayotte stayed away from the political spotlight. But during the 2020 cycle, she helped campaign and raise money for Republicans in New Hampshire and across the country.

Ayotte’s increased visibility is also putting her back on the New Hampshire Democratic Party’s radar.

The latest example came two weeks ago, following the attack on the U.S. Capitol by right-wing extremists and other supporters of former president Donald Trump that was seemingly encouraged by Trump.

“Kelly Ayotte’s silence on the domestic terrorist attack at the Capitol, incited by President Trump, and the death of two Capitol Police officers, reinforces that she will always put her own political interests ahead of the well-being of our country,” longtime state Democratic party chair Ray Buckley charged.

Ayotte’s history with Trump is complicated. During a debate with Hassan in the 2016 general election, Ayotte called Trump a role model, but quickly reversed herself. She broke off her support of the then-GOP presidential nominee after Trump’s controversial 2005 Access Hollywood comments surfaced.

Political pundits have pointed to her distancing from Trump just ahead of the 2016 election as a contributing factor in her extremely narrow defeat.

2024 already underway

It appears that now-former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is wasting no time in stoking speculation about his likely national ambitions.

On Thursday, his first full day as a private citizen following the end of President Trump’s administration, Pompeo tweeted “1,384 days.”

That happened to be the number of days until the next presidential election, in November of 2024.

Pompeo, a former congressman from Kansas who served as CIA director under Trump before becoming America’s top diplomat, is considered to be one of more than a dozen potential 2024 GOP presidential hopefuls.

A day earlier, with a possible eye towards a potential comeback in four years, the soon-to-be former president told supporters that “we will be back in some form.”

At a farewell rally at Joint Base Andrews Wednesday, Trump told a crowd of family, friends, aides that “I will always fight for you” and that “we will see you soon.”

So far there’s been no visits to the first-in-the-nation presidential primary state by potential 2024 GOP contenders. But it’s early. In the 2016 cycle – the last time there was a wide open GOP presidential nomination race – the first stops in New Hampshire didn’t come until May of 2013 – by Rand Paul and then-Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.

While no potential contenders have parachuted into New Hampshire yet, behind the scenes calls are being made.

“Right after the election, I had entrees that were very casual but very specific and it became clear to me that there are many people who are already eyeing New Hampshire in the next year,” New Hampshire Institute of Politics executive director Neil Levesque told the Monitor.

With the 2022 races getting underway, potentially high profile U.S. Senate and gubernatorial elections in New Hampshire will likely draw in 2024 contenders.

“Republican candidates in New Hampshire will ask these national figures to start coming into New Hampshire to help them. It’s a wonderful deal for both sides, to have someone eager to come in and somebody to have you come in,” Levesque pointed out.

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