December 1, 2012

Sen. Kelly Ayotte: Young, female ... and Republican?

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, 44, an unusual go-to figure for the GOP, is being touted as a new influential voice.


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Mitch McConnell, Lamar Alexander, Kelly Ayotte
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Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., speaks to the media with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in the background. Ayotte has teamed with Sen. John McCain and Sen; Lindsay Graham, also Republicans, in a rigorous grilling of U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, questioning her role as an administration spokesperson about the fatal attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

The Associated Press

"I believe we should be a leader in standing up for human rights around the world. I also believe it's important for our military to remain strong and to be the strongest in the world, so that we can remain safe and so that the world can remain a safer place," she said. "That's my overall view. And I believe that they [Graham and McCain] believe in a strong role for America in the world."

Whether Ayotte uses her heightened visibility to become a spokeswoman for the right or tries to become more of a bridge between the parties remains an open question.

Her questions about Rice have angered many Democrats, who see the dispute as a partisan witch hunt.

In her run for the Senate, Ayotte was embraced by conservative icon Sarah Palin as the kind of "Mama Grizzly" the GOP should advance. And unlike each of the "three amigos," she has not yet broken with her party on a high-profile issue.

Lieberman has parted ways with his longtime friends on Rice, indicating that he does not think the Benghazi incident should disqualify her from serving as secretary of state.

"She can't be a Joe Lieberman," said Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., who has been especially vocal in defending Rice. "She's not a Democrat or an independent, and she doesn't bring value in that way. It's just three Republicans standing there going off the deep end on a situation that is not based in fact."

But Ayotte does boast some bipartisan credentials. She was twice appointed attorney general in New Hampshire, first by a Republican and then by a Democrat. And McCain and Graham have traditionally been eager to work with Democrats on a wide variety of issues, and she may fit that mold in future years.

"If she's going to replace me, they've found somebody obviously more brilliant and more beautiful," Lieberman said. He praised Ayotte and another GOP first-term senator, Florida's Marco Rubio, for sharing his "pro-democracy, pro-freedom, keep America strong in the world" principles.

But he counseled that McCain, Graham and Ayotte will need to pull in a Democrat to join their group if their work is to continue to carry weight in the next Congress.

Rath said Ayotte's high-profile role with the Romney campaign came after she "sparked" with the former Massachusetts governor and his wife, Ann, at a breakfast meeting in Concord well before the New Hampshire primary.

Ayotte provided Romney an early boost in her state with an endorsement last November when he was locked in a tough multi-candidate battle for the nomination. She then campaigned extensively for Romney across the country, becoming a staple on the Sunday show circuit.

"She was as willing a soldier as I've seen in a campaign," Rath said.

McCain called her "very serious" and "a very quick study." He said he has come to believe Ayotte could be a leader in the mold of Margaret Chase Smith, the trailblazing Maine Republican who served four terms in the Senate.

"I see her kind of in that tradition -- working hard and being involved in national security issues," he said.


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