CONCORD, N.H.—Former Attorney General Kelly Ayotte, a conservative Republican endorsed by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, defeated Democratic Congressman Paul Hodes on Tuesday to keep retiring New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg's seat Republican.
A fiscal and social conservative, Ayotte painted herself as an outsider who will cut government spending and vote to repeal health care reforms. She also opposes stimulus spending and special requests by members of Congress called earmarks.
Palin endorsed Ayotte in a primary she narrowly won over another conservative supported by local tea party activists.
"New Hampshire has sent a clear message to Washington, and that is: No more business as usual. No more spending money we don't have on programs that don't work. And no more backroom deals," Ayotte told cheering supporters.
Preliminary results from exit polls for The Associated Press show Ayotte's mantra of smaller government and lower taxes appears to have resonated with New Hampshire voters.
About 70 percent of voters said they felt dissatisfied or angry about the way the federal government is working, and three-quarters of them backed Ayotte over Hodes. She held an even wider lead among the one-fifth of voters who say Congress' highest priority should be cutting taxes.
Voters who say Congress should focus on deficit reduction also favored Ayotte, while those who want Congress to spend more on job creation favored Hodes.
Hodes told the AP he got caught in a Republican tidal wave.
"It's a historic turning of the tide of the state and the country. Timing is very important in politics. This sure proves it," he said.
Hodes said he has "grave concerns" about where the Republicans will take the country.
Hodes, who vacated his 2nd District seat to run for Senate, campaigned as an independent thinker, but Ayotte successfully cast him in television ads and debates as a Washington insider who voted for bigger government and wasteful spending.
Hodes, 59, of Concord, vacated his 2nd District seat to run for Senate. Faced with voter unrest with the economy and Washington incumbents, he campaigned as an independent thinker who isn't afraid to go against Democratic leaders in Congress.
Hodes criticized Ayotte for wanting to cut spending -- such as her call to repeal health care reforms -- without considering what harm could ensue.
The two differed over whether to extend George W. Bush-era tax cuts. Hodes supports the extension for all but the wealthy. Ayotte said that would hurt thousands of small business owners whose profits are treated as income under tax laws.
Hodes accused Ayotte of inflating the impact and of wanting to give tax breaks to businesses that will mean sending jobs overseas.
Hodes questioned whether she let citizens down as attorney general for not stopping a Ponzi scheme that cost investors millions of dollars.
Ayotte, 42, of Concord, was attorney general when complaints surfaced about the now-defunct mortgage firm involved in a Ponzi scheme, but the complaints were sent to the state banking department, which has jurisdiction over such matters. She said she was proud of her tenure as attorney general and said the lesson learned from the scheme was for government to have clear lines of jurisdiction.
They also differed on gay rights. Ayotte said she opposes gays adopting children or marrying -- both of which are legal in New Hampshire -- but supports the state's right to set those policies. Hodes supports gay marriage and adoption as important equality rights.
Libertarian Ken Blevens and independent Chris Booth also were on the ballot.