Ayotte tops N.H. conservatives’ battle

Backers figured in close contest

By Norma Love
Associated Press / September 16, 2010

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MANCHESTER, N.H. — In the last significant turn of a tumultuous primary season nationally, Kelly Ayotte, a former New Hampshire attorney general, was declared the winner yesterday in a closer-than-expected Republican primary for US Senate.

With a thin victory margin of 1,667 votes, Ayotte overcame a late-charging challenge from lawyer Ovide Lamontagne, who had the support of several conservative Tea Party leaders. The secretary of state’s office declared her the winner early yesterday afternoon, more than 16 hours after the polls closed.

Lamontagne conceded to his GOP rival, saying he would not pursue a recount. Her Democratic opponent, US Representative Paul Hodes, was unopposed for his party’s nomination.

Ayotte, 42, and making her first try for elected public office, enjoyed the support of party officials as well as former GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and overcame her rival’s claim that he was the real conservative in the race. Lamontagne had the backing of local activists of the Tea Party movement as well as Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina, who has become a force in GOP primaries.

Democrats conceded privately that Ayotte would be a more difficult candidate in the general election than Lamontagne, and Hodes ran television ads this summer assailing her. The winner will succeed retiring Republican Senator Judd Gregg.

Hodes began criticizing Ayotte immediately after Lamontagne conceded.

“Today, the Republicans in New Hampshire nominated another extreme right-wing candidate out of step with mainstream New Hampshire voters,’’ Hodes said in a statement.

Ayotte told supporters yesterday that she wants to finish what Gregg has started by advocating lower spending and personal responsibility. She pledged to oppose special spending through earmarks and to help small businesses by cutting wasteful spending.

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