By Reid Wilson - 10/05/09 11:30 PM EDT
Former New Hampshire Attorney General Kelly Ayotte (R) leads Rep. Paul Hodes (D) by seven points, according to a new survey, giving the GOP hope of holding on to a seat it once openly worried about losing.
Ayotte is the choice of 40 percent of voters in the University of New Hampshire’s Granite Poll, sponsored by WMUR-TV, while 33 percent pick Hodes.
Hodes leads two other Republicans — attorney and former gubernatorial nominee Ovide Lamontagne and Republican National Committeeman Sean Mahoney — by nine points.
Neither campaign would comment directly on the Granite Poll.
“As she’s traveling up and down across the state, excitement continues to build for her candidacy,” was all Brooks Kochvar, Ayotte’s campaign manager, would say.
“It is remarkably early in the election cycle,” added Mark Bergman, Hodes’s spokesman. “The congressman remains focused on helping unemployed Granite Staters and providing portable, affordable healthcare to everyone.”
The survey is good news for Ayotte, who stepped down as attorney general in order to explore a race to fill Gregg’s seat. She is seen favorably by 37 percent of Granite State voters, while just 8 percent view her unfavorably. About half of voters do not know enough about her to have formed an impression.
She leads Hodes by nine points among undeclared voters and those who call themselves independents. Ayotte posts a 17-point lead among male voters, while Hodes leads by three percentage points among women. The two are essentially tied — Hodes sports a single-point lead — among voters in the 2nd district, which Hodes represents.
Hodes, meanwhile, is seen favorably by three in 10 New Hampshire voters, while a similar 26 percent say they view him unfavorably. Both Mahoney and Lamontagne are unknown by more than three-quarters of the voters.
Ayotte is the favored candidate of many Republican operatives, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas). The NRSC has not endorsed Ayotte, but she attended a fundraiser at the committee’s building in late September.
NRSC spokesman Brian Walsh said the poll showed dissatisfaction with Hodes’s record in Washington and with Democratic policies as a whole.
Hodes is “asking for a promotion at a time when New Hampshire voters clearly aren’t happy with how he’s performing in his current job, and that’s a big problem to try to get around,” Walsh said. The GOP, he added, is “well-positioned in the Granite State and we expect a very competitive race next year.”
The survey did not test Republican primary voters’ attitudes, but pollster Andrew Smith said that while Ayotte is the front-runner, Mahoney may have the skills to give Ayotte a run for her money. Lamontagne, too, is likely to be well-funded, thanks to his connections in the Manchester legal community.
“This poll shows that the voters are fed up with the bailouts, borrowing and big government programs Paul Hodes has supported during his time in Congress,” Mahoney told The Hill in an e-mail. “This poll only re-enforces [sic] my belief that 2010 will be a strong year for Republicans in New Hampshire.”
“Kelly is an announced candidate for Senate who has served as a high-profile appointee in Gov. [John] Lynch’s [D] administration for the past few years,” said Charlie Spies, who is helping Lamontagne explore a bid. “It is not surprising that she has much higher name ID and does better head-to-head at this point, more than a year before the 2010 election.
“Ovide has been humbled and encouraged by the outpouring of interest in his potential candidacy for Senate. If Ovide decides to run, we are confident that he will be the strongest general-election candidate against Hodes,” Spies added.
The poll was conducted Sept. 25 to Oct. 2 among 466 likely general-election voters, for a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percent.