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Aug 1, 2016 6:21 PM

First on NH1 News: New NRSC ad targets Hassan on drug crisis; her campaign fires back

NH1 News Political Director

CONCORD – The National Republican Senatorial Committee will begin airing a new television commercial in New Hampshire on Tuesday that criticizes Gov. Maggie Hassan over her response to New Hampshire’s heroin and opioid epidemic.

The Democratic governor’s campaign for the U.S. Senate quickly slammed the new ad as “false” and “misleading.”

And a few hours later, Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte called for the spot to be taken down.

Hassan is challenging Ayotte in one of the most high profile, expensive, and negative Senate races in the country.

The NRSC spot, which is part of $6.8 million ad reservation the committee made in the Granite State, targets Hassan over the drug crisis. “Maggie Hassan vetoed a budget that doubled spending to prevent heroin addiction,” says the narrator in the commercial.

“Maggie Hassan’s office was unaware of a $12 million grant to fight heroin,” adds the narrator. “Maggie Hassan mismanaged the heroin crisis and New Hampshire is paying the price.”

Responding to the ad, Hassan’s campaign manager Marc Goldberg told NH1 News that "Ayotte's Washington Republican colleagues are launching the same false, misleading attacks that were decried across New Hampshire as 'disgusting,' 'trash' and 'exactly what is wrong with politics.' The fact that Ayotte's Senate colleagues would actually run this disgusting ad shows Ayotte's tacit approval for politicizing the heroin and opioid crisis.”

"Ayotte tried to save herself politically with empty words the last time her allies ran an ad politicizing this public health and safety crisis - but this ad proves that Ayotte doesn't mean what she says. If Ayotte truly believed the crisis should not be politicized, she knows how to get in touch with Mitch McConnell. Ayotte should make sure this ad is pulled down and prevent it from ever running,” Goldberg added.

Goldberg was referring to a spot by the pro-Republican group One Nation that aired in June. That commercial, first reported by NH1 News, also targeted Hassan over her response to the state’s acute drug crisis. The ad created a firestorm, with Democrats and some Republicans criticizing the commercial, saying One Nation was politicizing the issue.

And even though the spot was critical of her Democratic challenger, Ayotte herself joined the critics, saying on Twitter that the group should “take down their ad.”

Regardless of the criticism, One Nation continued to run the ad.

On Monday evening, after NH1 News first reported on the NRSC commercial and the push back from the Hassan campaign, Ayotte weighed in as well.

"I've said it before and I'll say it again: no one should play politics with the heroin epidemic, and this ad should be taken down," Ayotte said in a statement.

"One of the problems with ads from third party groups is that candidates don't control them, and that's exactly why I asked Governor Hassan to join me in signing the same People's Pledge that Jeanne Shaheen signed, which would have kept ads like this out of New Hampshire. Governor Hassan had a chance to keep these kinds of ads off our airwaves, but she refused to sign the pledge and unfortunately, this is the result," she added.

Moments after Ayotte's statement was first reported by NH1 News, the Hassan campaign and the New Hampshire Democratic Party charged on Twitter that the senator was being duplicitous.

Later Monday evening the Hassan campaign formally reacted to Ayotte's statement.

"Kelly Ayotte has directly raised money for the NRSC, helping them to secure the resources to air disgusting ads such as this one. She has always put her DC party leaders and special interests first because they have funded her campaign, and now they will do anything to protect their investment," wrote Goldberg, in a statement obtained by NH1 News.

"Ayotte's words are hollow unless she pledges not to raise or accept funds from her Washington Republican colleagues who are running this offensive ad," he added.

Both Hassan, on the state level, and Ayotte, on the federal level, have had success in the past couple of months in passing legislation to address the epidemic.

Last month President Barack Obama signed into law the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which was co-authored by Ayotte. The senator told NH1 News that “this important legislation will bring a comprehensive approach to the opioid abuse epidemic and authorizes resources for treatment, prevention, recovery and first responders, as well as makes important policy changes that will better assist those who are struggling.”

The measure also promotes alternatives jail time for those with substance-abuse problems, and expands first-responder access to naloxone, which reverses the effects of an overdose. And the law allows more health-care providers to administer medication to fight opioid addiction.

In a statement, the NRSC told NH1 News that “in stark contrast with Maggie Hassan, Kelly Ayotte has done more than just talk about fighting the heroin epidemic. Ayotte sponsored and helped pass the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act that supports improved access to prevention, treatment, and recovery programs.”

But Hassan has been a key player in the state’s efforts to push back against the epidemic. Over the past year Hassan championed state efforts to address the crisis, calling for a special legislative session last year and signing into law last winter and this spring a series of bipartisan bills to beef up treatment, recovery, and law enforcement efforts.

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