Republican strategists have been vocal for the past year about the potential impact Donald Trump’s candidacy could have on down-ballot races, including the New Hampshire Senate race, because of the sharp divide the public feels over the GOP presidential nominee.
U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte has had a tough needle to thread as her party’s presidential nominee has alienated voters, but Trump also had a decisive win in the New Hampshire primary in February. The senator has made it clear that she supports the Republican nominee, but does not endorse him.
While Trump remains at the top of the Republican ticket, there couldn’t be a greater difference between the over-the-top rhetoric of the real estate mogul and the measured tone of New Hampshire’s junior senator.
Trump is not making it an easy re-election for Ayotte. On Tuesday, Trump started a new controversy with remarks about the right to bear arms that many interpreted as a threat of violence against Hillary Clinton, forcing many Republicans to repudiate the statement.
“I think they’re inappropriate, and obviously today’s forum was about making sure we can better serve our veterans on a bipartisan basis, so thank you,” Ayotte said to NBC News after a veteran’s forum in Manchester on Wednesday. “I said they’re inappropriate, so I think that means they went too far.”
Andrew Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center and associate professor of government, tells NH Journal that Trump’s message has forced many Republicans off message in their campaigns.
“When you have someone making over the top statements for the press to criticize, that is causing Republicans and his own campaign to explain what he means,” he said. “They [candidates] are not able to carry their message forward. That’s the concern that Trump is causing a lot of Republicans, to be defensive and to clean up his messes, instead of coming up with their own policies and platform.”
Ayotte has come out against Trump for his comments many times over the past several months. She condemned him for crossing a line with his rhetoric, including his comments on a Mexican judge and recently with the Khan family, who spoke against Trump at the Democratic Convention.
But Ayotte has faced criticism from Democrats and some #NeverTrump Republicans for not rescinding her support for Trump.
“She’s conflicted,” said Joseph Bafumi, associate professor of government at Dartmouth College. “She wants to be favorable to her party’s nominee. She sees what Trump is doing and she doesn’t like it on a personal level and electorally in New Hampshire. She doesn’t want to be part of that. She walks this fine line.”
Bafumi suggests that the biggest difference between Ayotte and Trump is his tone and temperament when he speaks.
“Their tones are very different,” he said. “Trump is harsh, in your face and never holds back. He says he’s politically incorrect and tells it like it is, but some see it as much too abrasive for a presidential candidate. Ayotte has a very even and much more mild demeanor. They couldn’t be more different in tone and temperament.”
Smith agrees that Trump’s rhetoric is a “yuge” reason why the two candidates don’t see eye to eye.
“He is brash, he is rude, he is arrogant, he’s loud, and doesn’t apologize on what he says,” Smith said. “Like it or not, Trump is the candidate. He’s your horse and you got to ride him. That’s the problem you’re seeing with Ayotte, and they are saddled with Donald Trump.”
Taking a look at how Ayotte and Trump speak about policy, highlights the difference in tone between them.
When speaking about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Ayotte gave a speech in July highlighting the organization as a key factor in her national security plan.
“The number one job of our federal government is to protect the American people and keep our country secure,” she said. “Without security, we can’t have freedom. And without security, we can’t have economic prosperity. A successful strategy must also include political and diplomatic components.”
Ayotte agrees with Trump that NATO countries need to play a more active role in fighting terrorism, but their differences in tone are striking.
“I think NATO is obsolete,” he said in an ABC News interview in March. “NATO’s not meant for terrorism. NATO doesn’t have the right countries in it for terrorism. And if you look at the Ukraine, we’re the ones always fighting on the Ukraine. I never hear any other countries even mentioned and we’re fighting constantly. We’re talking about Ukraine, get out, do this, do that.”
Even in issues Trump and Ayotte disagree on, their difference in rhetoric and tone is apparent.
In terms of climate change, Ayotte has been more moderate on the issue, even supporting President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan.
“After carefully reviewing this plan and talking with members of our business community, environmental groups, and other stakeholders, I have decided to support the Clean Power Plan to address climate change through clean energy solutions that will protect our environment,” she said.
Trump for years has used words like “nonexistant” and “hoax” to describe climate change.
“I think that climate change is just a very, very expensive form of tax,” he said during an interview on Fox News in January. “A lot of people are making a lot of money. I know much about climate change. I’ve received many environmental awards. And I often joke that this is done for the benefit of China — obviously I joke — but this is done for the benefit of China.”
Granite Staters are left to sort out the rhetoric between Ayotte and Trump to see if they agree with their policies, Bufumi said.
“Voters vary in what they like,” he said. “Some seem to like Trump’s tone but others, including many long-time Republicans, have a stronger preference for political candidates that select their words carefully and are more gracious.”