Time to get some distance.

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New Hampshire's Ayotte Can't Shake Off Trump

Margaret Carlson is a Bloomberg View columnist. She was a White House correspondent for Time, a weekly panelist on CNN’s “Capital Gang” and an editor at the New Republic.
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Few Republican candidates have been flummoxed more by Donald Trump’s presence at the top of the ticket than Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire.

Running for a second term against Democratic Governor Maggie Hassan, Ayotte has the party’s presidential nominee wrapped around her neck. Hassan, by contrast, has Michelle Obama, the country’s most popular political figure, by her side. At a rally last week, Hassan introduced the first lady, who delivered one of the most powerful speeches of this election, excoriating Trump as a force for evil, whose candidacy, behavior and rhetoric had “shaken me to my core.”

Ayotte, a former attorney general, prosecutor and solid legislator, has a core, but it’s been shaken by wanting to win so much that she coddled Trump. All summer, the senator contorted herself into the twisted stance that she would support, but not endorse, him. Then, in a debate, she gave a rambling answer about whether Trump was a good role model, concluding “I think that certainly there are many role models that we have and I believe he can serve as president, and so absolutely I would do that.”

Hassan resisted smiling. A few hours later, Ayotte claimed she’d “misspoke,” though she said Hillary Clinton wasn’t a role model either.

But just as the leaves were changing in October, so was Ayotte. She may not have been moved by attacks on Muslims, Mexicans or Gold Star families, but Trump bragging on tape about assaulting women (the gender Ayotte needs desperately in this election), was too much. Ayotte cut him loose. 

Her dump-Trump moment comes as the bottom is falling out of his campaign. Ayotte has considerable traditional Republican support. She spoke on Oct. 12 at a ceremony to honor the Manchester Police Department’s fallen officers, including one whose killer she convicted. She’s established national security credentials as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, important in a state with military bases. She voted for immigration reform and a clean energy bill, but largely hews to the party line: repeal Obamacare, balance the budget, raise the age for Social Security, don’t raise the minimum wage. Her vote against expanding background checks for gun buyers after the massacre of schoolchildren in Connecticut in 2012 prompted the daughter of a slain teacher to ask at a town hall meeting how Ayotte could be more worried about the “burden on owners of gun stores,” than about the “burden of my mother being gunned down in the halls of her elementary school.”

As governor, Hassan does things rather than sitting in Congress talking about them. She has a son with cerebral palsy and got her start in politics as an advocate for disabled children. She practiced law and climbed from state legislator to governor in 2013. She’s led the state to record prosperity with 3 percent unemployment and a replenished rainy day fund. She’s cut taxes for small businesses, and kept her pledge of no sales or income tax in the state. Hassan, as intense as Ayotte is measured, went over all this last week while touring the country’s largest pin factory in Nashua. Asked why she’d give up being in charge of an entire state to be a senator when many if not most senators in the dysfunctional capital would love to be governors, she said she would take with her the way things get done in New Hampshire, including bipartisan acceptance of Medicaid expansion funds and freezing of state college tuition. Good luck with that.

Ayotte had an easy race against a weak opponent in 2010 -- so much so she proudly stood with Sarah Palin as a fellow Mama Grizzly. Not so now. She needs suburban women concerned over her 100 percent pro-life voting record and efforts to defund Planned Parenthood. To compensate, she handed out condoms at a campaign stop to publicize her effort to make birth control available over the counter and, thereby, obviate the need for Planned Parenthood. Good luck with that. Both Ayotte and Hassan have worked across their respective aisles to deal with the opioid epidemic.

The sight of Hassan with Michelle Obama was powerful, as the first lady said the obvious: “our nation’s leaders should meet basic standards of human decency.” There was no similar sighting of Ayotte and Trump when he came to the state over the weekend. But there’s no escape. From the birther movement on, she and her party knew who Trump was but welcomed him in. It’s not just Ayotte and other Republicans on the ballot who are imperiled. Trump is now an unguided missile, calling the election rigged, stoking his followers to insurrection, spending the dwindling days of this sad election trying to destroy faith in our system of peacefully transferring power just so he has an excuse should he become one of the losers he hates. He’s not going down alone. He’d be delighted to take Ayotte whom he’s called one of the “weak people” with him. If only she’d known, she might have stood up sooner.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Margaret Carlson at mcarlson3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net