Democrats landed their top recruit for the New Hampshire Senate on Monday, as Gov. Maggie HassanMargaret (Maggie) HassanOvernight Health Care — Sponsored by America's 340B Hospitals — Dems blast rulemaking on family planning program | Facebook may remove anti-vaccine content | Medicare proposes coverage for new cancer treatment Trade official warns senators of obstacles to quick China deal Actor Chris Evans meets with Democratic senators before State of the Union MORE’s entrance into the race sets up a battle of Granite State heavyweights with Republican Sen. Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteUS, allies must stand in united opposition to Iran’s bad behavior American military superiority will fade without bold national action Five possible successors to Mattis MORE.

Republicans have signaled they intend to attack Hassan as a tax-and-spend liberal responsible for gridlock at the statehouse, and Democrats are eager to portray Ayotte as responsible for Washington dysfunction. But the most apparent fault lines in the race break along money and timing.


Ayotte will likely have a big-money advantage. Hassan, meanwhile, will benefit from running in a swing state in a presidential election year when turnout is expected to favor Democrats.

The race will have big implications as to who has control of the Senate going forward.

The Democrats only need a net gain of five seats to retake a majority, and Republicans are defending seats in more than a half-dozen battleground states, including Wisconsin, Florida, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and New Hampshire, as well as in deep-blue Illinois.

New Hampshire’s status as the first-in-the-nation primary state ensures the Senate race there will be among the most scrutinized and hotly contested. The race begins as a virtual toss-up.

“This will be close all the way through,” said University of New Hampshire polling director Andy Smith.

Ayotte leads by 4.5 percentage points, according to the RealClearPolitics average of polls. But those surveys were taken before Hassan officially entered the race, and the latest two polls show the candidates are neck and neck.

However, Ayotte starts off with a significant advantage in campaign cash. 

On the day Hassan announced her candidacy, Ayotte announced that she raised  $1.6 million in the third quarter, topping her second-quarter fundraising numbers and bringing her total cash on hand to $5 million.

Republicans will seek to leverage that money advantage by swamping the Granite State’s airwaves. Outside conservative groups have already begun spending heavily on the race.

Americans for Prosperity (AFP), the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a handful of other groups have pumped millions into the state to boost Ayotte.

“This is a top-tier, marquee race for us, and we are 1,000 percent behind Sen. Ayotte,” said Rob Engstrom, a senior vice president at the Chamber.

Democrats acknowledge they are likely to be outspent in the race but say it’s far from a death knell for Hassan. 

As a top recruit and executive of the state, Hassan, they believe, will prove an adequate fundraiser. She is unlikely to get a serious primary challenger and could benefit from early support from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

And EMILY’s List, the deep-pocketed group that supports pro-choice women Democratic candidates, has so far been quiet on Hassan’s entrance but could throw its weight behind the Democrat.

In addition, the Senate Majority PAC has already spent more than a $500,000 attacking Ayotte’s “commitment to Washington special interests at New Hampshire’s expense in the state.”

The financial differences are “not insurmountable,” said a Senate Democratic strategist with ties to New Hampshire. “Conservative groups have already been spending big, and it hasn’t done anything to dent Gov. Hassan’s polling numbers.”

Democrats, meanwhile, believe Hassan begins from a position of strength by virtue of running in a presidential election year in a state that a GOP presidential candidate hasn’t carried since 2000.

“Ayotte running in 2016 rather than 2010 is a very, very different race,” the Democratic strategist said. “In 2010, any Joe Schmoe with an ‘R’ behind their name was elected. It was a great year for Republicans. Nobody thinks that will be the case 13 months from now.”

If a Democratic presidential candidate again carries New Hampshire in 2016, it will be tough for Ayotte to overcome.

“The state leans Democratic in presidential election years,” Smith said.

Republicans, however, point to President Obama’s unpopularity in the state, Ayotte’s strong favorability numbers and New Hampshire’s history of electing Republican senators.

“The last time a Democrat was elected to Senator Ayotte’s seat was in 1974, and it was only held for one term,” National Republican Senatorial Committee Executive Director Ward Baker wrote in a July memo. “Another Democrat did not return to the U.S. Senate from New Hampshire until Sen. Jeanne Shaheen’s election in 2008. Since 1978, Granite Staters have sent a Republican back to the U.S. Senate 11 times and a Democrat only twice.”

The records for both candidates will be under intense scrutiny.

Republicans already seek to highlight a nasty budget fight between Hassan and Republicans in the state legislature that kept the second-term governor on the sidelines of the Senate race longer than many imagined.

Hassan initially vetoed a budget with corporate tax breaks, drawing the ire of AFP.

“We put our blood, sweat and tears into getting that in the budget,” said Greg Moore, AFP’s New Hampshire state director.

Hassan eventually signed the budget with the tax breaks after a weeks-long standoff. National and state Republicans have since nicknamed Hassan “Governor Gridlock.”

Democrats, meanwhile, believe they will be able to tie Ayotte to congressional dysfunction.

“Washington is broken and special interest favorite Kelly Ayotte is part of the problem,” the New Hampshire Democratic Party said in a statement. “Since going to Washington, Ayotte has put her special interest backers first, protecting tax breaks for big oil companies and outsourcers while voting to turn Medicare into a voucher program, defund Planned Parenthood, and make higher education more expensive.”

While both parties will pay outsized attention to the race and lavish the contest with considerable resources, the candidates could ultimately be at the mercy of the presidential candidates at the top of the ticket.

“Who will the presidential candidates be and how well will they do in motivating their supporters to turnout in New Hampshire?” asked Smith. “The answer to that will go a long way in determining who pulls this out.”

This story was updated at 7:14 p.m.