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May 4, 2016 5:55 PM

Steinhauser: Speaking with NH1 News, Hassan links Ayotte to Trump; Sununu says 'we're running our race'

NH1 News Political Director

CONCORD – It didn’t take Gov. Maggie Hassan long to tie Sen. Kelly Ayotte, the Republican incumbent in New Hampshire’s blockbuster U.S. Senate race, to presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump.

“We will be working as hard as we can to make sure that voters understand the difference between the Trump-Ayotte ticket and the vision of the future of this country that we want to put forward,” Hassan said in a one-on-one interview with NH1 News on Wednesday.

The Democratic governor's challenging Ayotte this year rather than run for re-election.

Hassan’s comments came hours after Trump became the all-but-certain GOP nominee, thanks to his convincing victory Tuesday night in Indiana’s primary, which dashed any hopes that Republican front runner would fail clinch the nomination and precipitated Trump’s two remaining rivals, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, to end their White House bids.

The big question now for New Hampshire: How will Trump at the top of the Republican ticket affect the Granite State’s crucial races for Senate and governor.

New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley, speaking with NH1 News, cited polls indicating both all-but-certain Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont both beating Trump in general election showdowns.

But Buckley added “what’s really interesting though is not really the polling, it’s the fact that they’re (New Hampshire’s Republican candidates) all in agreement with him when it comes to defunding Planned Parenthood, when it comes to doing away with Medicaid Expansion.”

“So those are the real issues and that’s why we’re going to win so well,” Buckley added.

Hassan took direct aim at Ayotte, who’s running for a second term in the Senate. She said that Trump’s “views, his actions are really dangerous for our country and for the globe and I’m very concerned that Sen. Ayotte is supporting him. I’m very concerned that she hasn’t called him to account for any of his most outrageous statements and I really find it appalling.”

Ayotte was not available for comment on Wednesday, as she had no public schedule. But in recent interviews with NH1 News, Ayotte's hedged a bit about backing Trump but said she would support the eventual GOP nominee.

“I plan support the Republican nominee however I’m going to watch to see how this process plays out,” Ayotte said in early March in Derry.

“I intend to support the Republican nominee but we’ll see how this plays out. Certainly no one has the delegates yet to get this nomination and we still have many more states to go,” Ayotte said in late March in Nashua.

Wednesday morning, Ayotte’s campaign communications director Liz Johnson told NH1 News “as she's said from the beginning, Sen. Ayotte plans to support the nominee."

Gubernatorial candidates also targeted

With Hassan challenging Ayotte for the U.S. Senate seat, the race for the Corner Office is wide open.

And the state Democratic party's also trying to tie the Republican gubernatorial candidates to Trump. Their favorite target's been Executive Councilor Chris Sununu, who's considered by many to be the leading candidate for the GOP nomination

Speaking with NH1 News on Wednesday, Sununu said Trump’s the presumptive nominee and that he's “going to talk about national issues. He’s going to run his own race. All the more reason why we need strong leadership at the state level here in the State House, why Kelly Ayotte is doing a great job representing the state of New Hampshire, why I look forward to hopefully being the governor of the state of New Hampshire.”

“What happens on the national level, in my mind, should stay on the national level. We’re going to run a strong race here,” Sununu added.

Asked by NH1 News if he’ll campaign with Trump in the Granite State, Sununu said “when Donald Trump comes to New Hampshire to campaign, if he were to do so, he’s going to have his own schedule and do his own thing. We’re running our race. Will we be at similar events? I’m sure that’s a possibility but that’s down the road and something that we’ll have to see how it plays out.”

In a statement to NH1 News, another leading Republican contender, Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas, wrote “As I’ve said all along, I will support the republican nominee. As it looks to be Donald Trump, I of course will campaign with him in New Hampshire, just as I did with every single candidate this past cycle that requested it. I believe we need to unite for success in defeating Hillary Clinton and the Democratic ticket here in New Hampshire.”

And Mike Dennehy, top adviser for state Sen. Jeanie Forrester’s GOP gubernatorial campaign, told NH1 News that “Jeanie will support the Republican nominee for President. If he comes to campaign in NH as the Republican nominee and wants to campaign with Jeanie then she would be glad to do it.”

Democratic divisions

Almost forgotten in all the GOP drama the past 24 hours was Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont upset victory over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Indiana’s Democratic primary. Even though Clinton’s considered the all-but-certain Democratic nominee, Sanders vows to continue campaigning at least through the end of the primary season.

Sanders won New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary by a whopping 22 percentage points over Clinton, and there are questions whether his supporters in the state will eventually unite behind Clinton.

Asked by NH1 News if she’ll have a hard time, as an endorser of Clinton, winning the backing of the legions of Sanders supporters in the state, Hassan said “I think Sen. Sanders has brought forward very important issues with a passion that has attracted lots of people to the Democratic Party and I think that’s very healthy. I think that we’ll have a unified party at the convention.”

And Buckley told NH1 News that “the fact that Donald Trump’s at the top of the ticket with Kelly Ayotte and the prospect of Frank Guinta and all the other Republicans that are running for office, that is a terrific unifying force. We’re going to be a united party here in this state

Executive Councilor Chris Sununu talks 1-on-1 with NH1 News on May 4, 2016

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