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Feb 11, 2016 11:50 PM

Steinhauser: Primary results impact Senate battle

NH1 News Political Director

CONCORD – Two days after the two presidential candidates without super PACs convincingly won the Democratic and Republican presidential primaries in New Hampshire, Sen. Kelly Ayotte made a pitch to dramatically limit outside spending in her re-election battle against Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan.

Hassan’s campaign told NH1 News that they’re giving the proposal “real consideration” and that they’d give Ayotte an answer “as soon as possible.”

Ayotte made her news in a statement Thursday morning.

“We owe it to the people of New Hampshire to have an honest discussion of our respective records and stand behind the ads run on our behalf,” the first term Republican senator wrote. “But excessive spending by third party special interest groups threatens to drown out New Hampshire voices in our race and undermine the meaningful debate that our citizens expect and deserve.”

"We can change the status quo and take a stand to say that this race should be about New Hampshire. That’s why today I’m asking you to agree to a race between the two of us by pledging to keep third party special interest spending out of this race and keep the focus on New Hampshire priorities,” Ayotte continued.

Speaking to NH1 News minutes after the senator’s announcement, Ayotte campaign finance chairman Steve Duprey said “if you take one lesson away from Tuesday’s presidential primary where Bernie Sanders won without a super PAC and Donald Trump wouldn’t take contributions and had no super PAC, it’s that voters in New Hampshire don’t like that kind of money, don’t like that outside influence, don’t like those outside special interests and super PACs playing in New Hampshire.”

“So now Gov. Hassan, I hope will sign that pledge, and then we’ll have a good race between two good people about New Hampshire issues. I don’t know of any other incumbent who’s started and initiated this kind of pledge,” Duprey continued.

The “peoples pledge” is based on the 2012 agreement between then Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts and his Democratic challenger, Elizabeth Warren. It would require either candidate that benefits from third-party spending to fork over 50% of the cost of that ad buy to a charity of the opponent’s choosing.

Hassan campaign manager Marc Goldberg told NH1 News “Gov. Hassan has long been a proponent for campaign finance reform. She opposes the Supreme Court Citizens United decision and believes that overturning it is essential to our Democracy. So it’s certainly interesting and the governor will give it full consideration. We’re reviewing it as we speak.”

Goldberg then criticized Ayotte, who’s greatly benefited from outside money so far this election cycle, with a bunch of pro-GOP outside groups spending big bucks on ads targeting Hassan.

“I would also say it’s a bit out of character coming from Sen. Ayotte, who has benefited from over $5 million in outside money already in ads for her and opposing the governor already this cycle. She has opposed campaign finance reform and she supports the Citizens United decision, not to mention she’s voted with the Koch Brothers 90% of the time,” Goldberg added.

Hours earlier, the Hassan campaign released a memo to reporters that charged that Ayotte “puts corporate special interests such as the Koch Brothers and her party’s leadership before New Hampshire.”

Primary results impact Senate battle

This latest skirmish comes just two days after Sanders defeated Clinton by a whopping 22% in the Democratic primary and Trump topped the rest of the GOP presidential field by double digits.

State and national Democratic groups quickly said Republican ticket with Trump on the top could be devastating to Ayotte in November’s general election. But Duprey disagreed.

“Every candidate runs independent of their ticket. I’m sure that if Bernie Sanders is the nominee, Gov. Hassan won’t be rushing to embrace him. People in New Hampshire know better. These super PACs spend all this money trying to tie whoever’s running for Senate to the presidential nominee, but New Hampshire voters get it that you elect the senators independently and by the way Kelly Ayotte has a pretty good record of standing up to both presidents and leaders of her own party,” he said.

Hassan was a high profile supporter and top surrogate for Clinton. Republican groups criticized Hassan after Clinton was trounced by Sanders.

But New Hampshire Democratic Party chairman Ray Buckley pushed back, saying “it’s never hurt anybody in the past decades that I’ve been around in politics and I think clear that the voters of New Hampshire are going to look at Maggie Hassan and say ‘we need her in the U.S. Senate’.”

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