Jun 6, 2016 2:34 PM

First on NH1 News: In new TV ad, pro-GOP group criticizes Hassan over heroin crisis

NH1 News Political Director

CONCORD -- A pro-Republican third party group that’s spent big bucks to run TV commercials in New Hampshire defending GOP Sen. Kelly Ayotte is going back up with a new spot in the Granite State starting Tuesday that criticizes her Democratic challenger, Gov. Maggie Hassan.

NH1 News learned on Monday that the new TV commercial by One Nation will slam Hassan over her handling of the state’s acute heroin and opioid epidemic.

“Tell Gov. Hassan it’s time to step up on the heroin epidemic,” the announcer in the ad says.

NH1 News was first to report on Sunday that One Nation will spend $4.6 million to run the spot. The ad buy begins on Tuesday and runs through June 26th, and runs again July 6-15. The buy includes WBIN-TV, home of NH1 News.

In the ad, the narrator says “the heroin epidemic has devastated New Hampshire families. Yet in New England New Hampshire ranked dead last on spending on substance abuse programs in 2014. And Gov. Maggie Hassan’s budget veto last year forced delays for substance abuse programs. Program delays that threated families in need. Then Gov. Hassan’s drug czar resigned, after being under fire for doing too little, too late.”

Over the past year Hassan’s called the Granite State’s heroin and opioid crisis “the most pressing public safety and health challenge that we have.”

And she described the battle as “our current urgent fight against addiction.”

Last autumn she called for a special session of the state legislature, which met in January, to deal with the substance abuse and misuse crisis

Last week she told reporters “we set out a comprehensive package in November to address the on-going epidemic that we’re all dealing with that’s taking lives in New Hampshire.”

And the governor praised the “passage in the legislature of the expansion of our drug court program statewide, critical funding for prevention, treatment, and recovery services. And here in the (Executive) Council we approved a number of contracts that also an outgrowth of that strategy.”

Late Monday afternoon the Hassan campaign called for the ad to be taken down.

"This is a disgusting and misleading attack that has no place in New Hampshire and disrespects all the families, public safety officials and advocates working so hard to solve this crisis. Kelly Ayotte should immediately call on her Washington allies to take down this ad and stop politicizing a crisis that takes the lives of Granite Staters every day,"Hassan campaign manager Marc Goldberg said in a statement.

The Ayotte campaign quickly responded.

"Kelly has said from the beginning that both sides need to work together to find bipartisan solutions on this issue, not play politics - which is what she's done by helping pass the CARA bill. The problem with third party outside spending is that candidates can't control it, and that's why Kelly proposed the same People's Pledge that Jeanne Shaheen signed. Hassan didn't sign the pledge, and now we've seen millions in negative attacks flooding our airwaves - including more than $2.3 million alone from Harry Reid's Super PAC," Ayotte campaign spokesman Liz Johnson told NH1 News.

Both sides have blamed each other for the lack of an agreement on limiting outside spending.

On Tuesday Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and the Professional Firefighters of New Hampshire both called on One Nation to drop the ad. The firefighters union endorsed Hassan in in the 2012 and 2014 gubernatorial elections. They have yet to make an endorsement in this year's U.S. Senate race.

Group is big spender in Ayotte-Hassan ad wars

One Nation, a non-profit 501(c)(4) group, was formed in May of last year. Days after its launch, the group went up with a $325,000 ad buy to put up digital, radio, and print ads in New Hampshire highlighting Ayotte’s legislative accomplishments.

Last October the organization spent $1.4 million on TV, digital, and radio to run ads defending Ayotte’s record on women’s healthcare. In March the group once again spent big bucks to run a commercial highlighting Ayotte’s work on a bill dealing with the heroin and opioid crisis, which has hit New Hampshire especially hard.

One Nation is linked to the pro-Republican American Crossroads super PAC and its non-profit Crossroads GPS, which were both co-founded and steered by Karl Rove, the mastermind behind President George W. Bush’s 2000 and 2004 election victories. The organization is run by Steven Law, who is also president of Crossroads. Law was also a former chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

"Sadly, Maggie Hassan has focused more on politics than results while the opioid crisis has raged in New Hampshire," Law said in a statement provided to NH1 News.

Asked by NH1 News Monday about the new One Nation ad buy, Hassan said "it’s not a surprise that One Nation is putting up a huge dark money buy to protect Kelly Ayotte. It really underscores the fact that she has voted for them and the special interests that back them."

Responding to the report by NH1 News, Hassan campaign communications director Aaron Jacobs said “today, we saw 4.6 million signs that Washington Republicans and their corporate special interest backers are afraid of losing their Senator, Kelly Ayotte. Clearly, they’re nervous about protecting their investment in Kelly Ayotte -- especially as she follows her party on refusing to fill the Supreme Court vacancy and falls in line behind Donald Trump for President."

The Ayotte-Hassan showdown is one of the most high profile, expensive and negative Senate races in the country. Ayotte also faces a long shot primary challenge from former state Sen. Jim Rubens.

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