By JOHN DiSTASO, News Editor
NASHUA – Sen. Kelly Ayotte Tuesday praised fellow Republican former Sen. Scott Brown as “patriot,” while Brown told a large crowd at a local diner he wants to go back to Washington to be Ayotte’s “right-hand man,” “wing man” and “battle buddy.”
Ayotte, the state’s top elected Republican, endorsed Brown despite the fact that he is in a GOP primary against four opponents who are also looking to take on Sen. Jeanne Shaheen in November.
“I know his heart,” Ayotte said of Brown. “It will be in the right place for our state.
“Working together I can assure you that we will put New Hampshire first,” she said.
Joining Ayotte in backing Brown were former Govs. Steve Merrill and Craig Benson.
While the endorsements by the three reinforce the view of Brown’s critics that he is the pick of the GOP establishment, their backing may in fact help him win over skeptical conservatives.
Although Brown is the frontrunner in the primary, some of those hard-core conservatives are gravitating to three of Brown’s primary opponents, former U.S. Sen. Bob Smith, former state Sen. Jim Rubens and conservative activist Karen Testerman. Also in the Senate primary is Andy Martin.
Rubens, despite being a self-described moderate on some issues, particularly social issues, and a believer in man-made climate change, will formally be endorsed by the conservative, Tea Party-based Republican Liberty Caucus of New Hampshire, and the national RLC, on Thursday.
Ayotte called Brown a fiscal conservative who, like her, is in favor of a strong national defense.
She ignored their differences on the Second Amendment, including Brown’s support for a ban on so-called “assault weapon,” which Ayotte opposes.
Following the nearly hour-long event at Norton’s Classic Café, attended by about 200 supporters, Brown and his wife, Gail Huff, immediately departed without answering reporters’ questions.
Ayotte, asked as she departed if she had a concern about Brown’s ability to attract conservatives, said, “Scott Brown believes in the fundamental principles of our Republican Party – fiscal responsibility, the Constitution of the United States, making sure that we protect individual freedom and making sure that we repeal and replace Obamacare.”
Asked directly what she would tell conservatives concerned about his Second Amendment stance, Ayotte said, “I’d say he supports the Constitution.”
State GOP chair Jennifer Horn attended the event, sparking speculation that she was breaking with tradition and backing Brown in a primary. But party spokesman Lauren Zelt quickly tried to squelch that possible perception, emailing NHJournal that Horn “looks forward to attending as many events as possible for our Republican candidates running for office in New Hampshire this year, including all candidates for federal office.”
GOP sources also noted that Nashua is Horn’s home city and that she plans to attend an event for Rubens on Thursday and a Testerman event on Sunday.
The New Hampshire Democratic Party, meanwhile, released a video of Ayotte endorsing Brown for the Massachusetts Senate seat less than two years ago. In the video, taken when Brown ran against Sen. Elizabeth Warren in the Bay State, Ayotte says Brown “is worried about jobs for people in Massachusetts.”
The party called the release of the video “Throwback Tuesday.”
The Shaheen campaign did not respond to requests for comment for this and earlier reports.
Ayotte said Brown’s 35-year service in the Army National Guard – he retired last week – shows he “cares deeply about this country.”
She said Washington “is still broken” and asked, “Please send me a teammate in Scott Brown who can fight against what we’re seeing happening in Washington.
“Scott understands and has stood against Obamacare, which is hurting New Hampshire right now,” Ayotte said, adding that he will vote to “repeal and replace” the law with a program that is not “Washington-centered.”
“The consequences of Obamacare in New Hampshire have not been good,” Ayotte said. “We need Scott Brown to help me repeal Obamacare and replace it with some common sense policies.”
Calling for a GOP majority, she said the Senate has “gone from the most deliberative body in the world to the ‘my way or the highway’ body.
“The way (Senate Majority Leader) Harry Reid runs the Senate, if you have a good idea, it doesn’t matter if you are a Republican or a Democrat, you can’t get a vote on it,” she said.
Brown, referring to Shaheen and Democratic U.S. Reps. Carol Shea-Porter and Ann Kuster, said that Ayotte “cannot be down there struggling and fighting three-against-one every single day. I would be honored if I have the opportunity to go down there and be her right-hand person, her wingman, to be able to go down there and battle, to be her battle buddy, and go down there and battle for not only our state, but the men and women who are trying so hard to create jobs, our men and women who are fighting to get decent health care, to get decent veterans care. You deserve better.”
Brown called for smaller government, lauding the state’s “fiercely independent” people and saying that his mother, with whom he “battled,” “taught me the value of hard work.”
Brown called Sen. Jeanne Shaheen “a nice person” but “wrong on the issues” and charged she has not served as the “independent leader” she had promised as a candidate to be.
“Independent leaders do not vote 100 percent of the time with their party,” Brown said. “To be a rubber stamp for this administration, to kill jobs, to rack up a terrible and very dangerous national debt and forcing a health care system on our state and on our country that doesn’t work, that’s not independent leadership.”
Merrill, in an interview, said Brown has “a great record of fighting taxes,” is “strong for the small business community” and has a “historic opposition to Obamacare.”
Merrill said he did not believe that Brown has a Second Amendment problem.
“His rating by the NRA has always been ‘A’ or ‘A-minus,” said Merrill. “There will be some discussion of it in the primary but I don’t think it’s going to linger at all.”
Benson said Brown “stands for cutting taxes,” and “the Constitution” and would stand against “interventionist” judicial nominees.
Former Executive Councilor and Manchester Mayor Ray Wieczorek acted as emcee for the event.
Smith on Tuesday reacted to the endorsements:
“It is very clear that the establishment planners of the Republican Party in Washington and Concord have selected Scott Brown to be their nominee. On Sept. 9, we will find out who the Republican and independent voters of New Hampshire want.
“I take the endorsements of Ayotte, Benson and Merrill (of Brown) as a compliment,” said Smith. “Our polls are strong, our message of sticking to principle is working, and our grassroots response has been the best I have experienced in any of my campaigns in the past. They are clearly worried and well they should be. My message to Scott Brown is to stop hiding behind endorsements and accept my challenge to debate the issues in 10 counties in front of the true endorsers—the voters,” Smith said. He reissued his challenge that Brown debate him in all 10 counties.
Rubens campaign consultant James Basbas said, “Voters in New Hampshire are sick of Washington politics as usual and want a Senate that tackles the tough problems and provides bold solutions.
“In Senator Shaheen, we have a rubber stamp who votes with Obama 99 percent of the time. In order to defeat Shaheen in November, we need to nominate a candidate who can contrast Senator Shaheen on the issues. Jim Rubens is the candidate in this race who contrasts Senator Shaheen most effectively and has a track record of accomplishment.”
(Our earlier report follows)
CONCORD – Sen. Kelly Ayotte will make official Tuesday what had been long expected: she will endorse former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown for the U.S. Senate seat held by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, despite the fact that Brown is in a Republican primary.
Also backing Brown at an event at Norton’s Classic Café in Ayotte’s home city of Nashua will be former Govs. Steve Merrill and Craig Benson.
In email sent by the Brown campaign, Ayotte calls Brown “a friend and former colleague,” and “independent thinker.”
Ayotte wrote that he “has what it takes to win this election and represent New Hampshire values in Washington. He is the right guy for the job, and I would be proud to have him as my teammate in the United States Senate to keep fighting for New Hampshire families.
“After serving with Scott, I know first-hand that he is a proven leader who will listen to your concerns to find commonsense solutions to reduce our debt, repeal Obamacare, and make sure the next generation enjoys a bright future filled with opportunities for success,” Ayotte wrote.
“Along with Governors Craig Benson and Steve Merrill, I encourage you to join us as we formally endorse Scott Brown’s candidacy for United States Senate.”
Ayotte has been hinting that she would endorse Brown and her backing enhances his frontrunner status in his primary campaign against former U.S. Sen. Bob Smith, former state Sen. Jim Rubens, conservative activist Karen Testerman and Andy Martin.
Her endorsement, however, will add to the criticism voiced by her primary opponents that Brown is the candidate of the state GOP establishment.