With the general election of November 2016 nearly 21 months from now, Sen. Kelly Ayotte is moving early to begin building a reelection campaign team. Today, the New Hampshire Journal has learned, she hired Ben Sparks, the former campaign manager for Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan, to fill the same leadership post for her reelection bid.
Ben Sparks, new Ayotte campaign manager
Sparks will be based in Manchester and will oversee all political operations and staff, GOP sources said.
Sparks led Sullivan’s successful Senate bid in Alaska and previously served as communications director for the New Jersey Republican Party. He was also the Wisconsin communications director for Romney for President in 2012. In 2011, he was the communications director for the Wisconsin GOP during Gov. Scott Walker’s recall election.
Ayotte, a former state Attorney General, was elected in 2010 in a landslide over then Rep. Paul Hodes, but she first faced a tough primary battle against former New Hampshire attorney Ovide Lamontagne and businessmen Bill Binnie and Jim Bender. She has quickly risen in visibility in the Senate and has even been mentioned as a potential vice presidential candidate, both in 2012 and again for 2016. But she first announced that she is running for reelection to the Senate in an interview with the Journal just a few days after last year’s midterm election.
Many Democrats are urging Gov. Maggie Hassan to challenge Ayotte, but the governor has just won a second term to the State House corner office and has avoided talk of a Senate bid. There are a number of other Democrats viewed as ready to run if Hassan does not — possibly among them Rep. Ann Kuster and former Rep. Carol Shea-Porter.
Perhaps anticipating a tough reelection bid against a sitting governor in a presidential election year, Ayotte has moved unusually quickly on a campaign team. With Sparks on board detailed financial and strategic planning will ramp up, and eventually, additional staff will be hired.
Ayotte has also continued raising substantial funds during her first term — more than $3 million so far since her 2010 victory, and with more than $2 million in cash on hand as of the end of 2014, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission by the Friends of Kelly Ayotte Committee.
In a statement obtained by the New Hampshire Journal, Ayotte called Sparks “a talented and battle-tested manager with a proven track record of success. As I continue my ongoing dialogue with the people of New Hampshire about how we can grow our economy, cut spending and keep our country safe, Ben will bring valuable leadership to my campaign team.”
Sparks, said, “Now more than ever it’s critical that New Hampshire and our nation have strong leaders who can work through Washington’s partisan gridlock and deliver results. Kelly Ayotte is the strong leader New Hampshire needs to fight government waste, ensure our national security and stand up for the middle class.”
Sparks led Sullivan’s campaign that unseated Democratic Sen. Mark Begich in a razor close election. According to The Associated Press, Sullivan led Begich by about 8,100 votes on election night, and when state officials counted absentee and questioned ballots a week later, Sullivan’s victory became final.
The Alaska seat had been viewed as key to the GOP’s goal of taking control of the Senate, but the Republicans took control of the Senate on election night, with Sullivan’s victory, announced a week later, adding to the Republican majority.