Former U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte launched her campaign for governor of the Granite State in front of a packed house at The Goat Bar and Grill in Manchester, N.H., Monday night. And she made it clear she isn’t backing down from her “one election away from Massachusetts” message.
In her first campaign speech, Ayotte doubled down on messaging that had already drawn the ire of Massachusetts liberals, again warning attendees, “You probably heard this in my announcement, but I’m going to say it again: I fear we are one election away from becoming Massachusetts, from becoming something that we are not. We are different as a state.”
And, Ayotte told the crowd, “You may have noticed that over the last week, when I said I didn’t want New Hampshire to become Massachusetts, that I got a little reaction from the liberal politicians and press in Massachusetts. They didn’t appreciate that; they were pretty offended.”
Ayotte continued, “Well, here’s what I want them to know: I’m never going to apologize for our great state and how awesome we are, number one. And number two, I want you to know that I will never back down when it comes to fighting for the people of New Hampshire,” Ayotte said.
Her overall message was positive, talking about her love for the state and her admiration for outgoing Gov. Chris Sununu.
“If I look at where we are as a state, Gov. Sununu has done a great job,” Ayotte said. “He’s done a great job as governor. But we understand that after he finishes being governor, it is so important that the battle for our state and for who we are continue.”
With Sununu out, the Republican nomination is up for grabs. In addition to Ayotte, former state Senate President Chuck Morse, who most recently ran for the 2022 Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate, is already in the race. Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut is expected to jump in, as well.
Despite the backlash, Bob Batchelor of Litchfield said he thinks Ayotte should continue her anti-Massachusetts messaging. “The whole thing of preserving what’s unique about New Hampshire is really important,” he told NHJournal. “I don’t want to let them turn New Hampshire into Massachusetts…I like that theme.”
The former senator also focused on several issues that will be key to her campaign, as well as priorities for her administration if elected. In her short speech before mingling with the crowd, she hit on supporting law enforcement, combating the influx of fentanyl in the state and treating addiction, strengthening the New Hampshire economic advantage, reducing energy costs, blocking new taxes, and ushering in parental rights and universal school choice.
“I believe that parents make the best decisions for their children,” Ayotte declared. “I’m a strong believer in education freedom, and the reason for that is that every child learns differently. And parents know what is best for their children, and we want to give every child in this state the opportunity to go to the school or the educational setting that is best for them.”
Attendees were excited to see Ayotte making a comeback in New Hampshire politics. She last ran for office in 2016 in a reelection bid as the incumbent senator from New Hampshire, a race she narrowly lost to Maggie Hassan.
“I was a big supporter for her when she ran for Senate,” Paul Schibbelhute of Nashua said. “I think she has all the right answers for all the serious problems we’ve had in New Hampshire. Gov. Sununu’s done a great job, so we need to keep going down the path of doing the things that Chris has done, and Kelly will make sure that happens.”
In preliminary polling of the Republican gubernatorial primary, Ayotte is the early favorite. According to a poll from NHJournal/coefficient, Ayotte came in at 69 percent support among likely Republican primary voters in the state. Morse and Edelblut, meanwhile, had 22 percent and 9 percent support, respectively.
Ayotte secured at least two votes at her kickoff event. “Definitely,” Jeanette Frasier of Salem responded when asked if she would vote for Ayotte. “I think she’s going to be a great governor. As good as Sununu, even better!”
“As far as the folks who are declared on the Republican side,” Kirk Simoneau of Merrimack told NHJournal, “yeah, Kelly’s certainly got my vote.”
And in an interview on the Hugh Hewitt radio show Monday morning, Sununu was asked about his plans to endorse in the governor’s race. “Kelly Ayotte is great, but I haven’t endorsed anyone. We’ll see who gets in the race,” Sununu said.
He did not mention any other candidates’ names.