A Palin effect in New Hampshire?

New numbers from Public Policy Polling give New Hampshire Senate candidate Kelly Ayotte (R) just a 3-point lead over Rep. Paul Hodes (D).

Ayotte leads Hodes 45 percent to 42 percent. A PPP survey in April gave Ayotte a 7-point lead over Hodes — 47 percent to 40 percent.

Most notably, the poll found a sharp increase in Ayotte’s negatives, jumping 15 points since PPP last polled the race in April. Her favorability now stands at 36-39. 

Pollster Tom Jensen points the finger at former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R), who endorsed Ayotte earlier this month. He notes that Granite State centrists have moved away from the Republican since she won Palin’s backing.

Jensen writes: “51% of voters in the state say they’re less likely to back a Palin endorsed candidate to only 26% who say that support would make them more inclined to vote for someone. Among moderates that widens to 65% who say a Palin endorsement would turn them off to 14% who it would make more supportive.”

While Jensen says numbers set for release from PPP Wednesday will show Palin’s support has helped Ayotte in the context of the Republican primary, there’s still a major question as to how much Palin’s backing could hurt in a general election.

Ayotte has been taking fire from all sides during the past few weeks. One of her Republican primary opponents — self-funder Bill Binnie — has spent heavily on TV ads, and Democrat Paul Hodes has already gone after Ayotte on the airways. 

For her part, Ayotte certainly hasn’t run away from Palin’s backing. Her campaign website prominently displays a picture of the former governor on its splash page with the text, “Help Sarah Palin fight to elect a true conservative in New Hampshire.”

A Republican close to the Ayotte campaign downplayed the poll, saying it oversampled Democrats. The source also rebuffed the notion that Palin’s backing is a negative for the campaign, noting that the campaign sought Palin’s endorsement and “is honored to have it.”