What’s the only thing better for a New Hampshire Republican than taking shots at liberal Massachusetts?

When Massachusetts shoots back.

“I’m running for governor because New Hampshire is one election away from becoming Massachusetts – from becoming something we are not,” said GOP candidate for governor Kelly Ayotte when she kicked off her campaign.

It wasn’t a gratuitous backhand at the Bay State. Just days earlier, Democrat Joyce Craig was celebrating the endorsement her campaign for the corner office received from progressive Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healy.

“I’m so excited to endorse her campaign for Governor of NH,” Healey tweeted. “Let’s goooo!!!”

“Gov. Healey is a staunch advocate for women and families, and I am grateful for her support in our campaign for governor of New Hampshire,” Craig replied.

Republican politicians don’t get many political openings like that. Ayotte has made her “Don’t let New Hampshire become Massachusetts” message a central part of her media appearances this week.

“Here in New Hampshire, we take our state motto very seriously, ‘Live Free or Die.’ And there’s just a very different perspective with our neighbors,” Ayotte told Fox News on Monday. “Unfortunately, we’ve seen drugs, the fentanyl being trafficked off our southern border from Lowell and Lawrence, Mass. into our cities, and it’s killing our citizens.”

The Bay State backlash was almost immediate.

“Kelly Ayotte’s Massachusetts bashing is a tired political play,” Boston TV’s Jon Keller grumbled.

Boston Globe liberal Yvonne Abraham dedicated an entire column to rebutting Ayotte’s remarks and attacking the Granite State GOP. New Hampshire Republicans are “the bar scene from ‘Star Wars,’ dominated by extremists, conspiracy theorists, culture war obsessives, and cultish devotees of former president Donald Trump,” she wrote.

“Maybe it’s just easier for her to run against Massachusetts than it is to run against her likely opponents for the party nomination,” Abraham added.

Not surprisingly, Ayotte isn’t losing any sleep over slurs coming from south of the state line.

“I’m pro-Second Amendment and against raising taxes. I’m never going to be popular in Massachusetts, and that’s perfectly okay with me,” she told NHJournal.

It looks pretty smart to Dr. Wayne Lesperance at New England College, too.

“No Republican candidate for governor ever went wrong by pointing to Massachusetts as a cautionary tale,” the political science professor said. “Ayotte is smart to point at the Bay State as what we don’t want in New Hampshire. That folks from south of our border are elevating her comments through reacting so vigorously is all upside for Ayotte’s campaign. Put another way, Team Ayotte 1 – Massachusetts 0.”

Oddly, Ayotte’s Massachusetts critics somehow managed to work allegations of racism into their rebuttals. Abraham accused Ayotte of “cozying up to Moms for Liberty and others convinced their White children are being indoctrinated in school.” Keller claimed her reference to the drug trade flowing from Lawrence and Lowell is a “racially-tinged trope.”

“Trope” is a strange word to use for the Lawrence/Lowell drug hub problem the DEA has openly discussed for more than a decade. One DEA enforcement effort focused on the flow of drugs from the Lawrence area into New Hampshire was literally called “Operation Devil’s Highway.” It resulted in “the seizure of more than 14 kilograms of fentanyl, five kilograms of heroin, 29 kilograms of cocaine, four firearms, and body armor,” the DEA reported.

It is a news story that regularly generates headlines like “Largest Fentanyl Bust in N.H. Traced to Lawrence Drug Ring” (NHPR).

“The Massachusetts media may not like to hear that drugs come up from Lowell and Lawrence, but that’s the reality for families across New Hampshire who have been hurt by the poison that comes across our southern border. Kelly will always stand up for New Hampshire and make sure that we remain safe, prosperous, and free,” said Ayotte campaign spokesman John Corbett.

Ayotte is facing former state Sen. Chuck Morse in the GOP gubernatorial primary. Many Republicans expect Commissioner of Education Frank Edelblut to also enter the race. Smacking around Massachusetts won’t be enough to win a primary against two strong candidates.

But it sure can’t hurt.