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“Since When Is Kelly Ayotte A “Moderate”?”: The Disappearance Of Actual Republican ‘Moderates’ Is A Problem

The New York Times reported yesterday on the electoral challenges facing Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R) in New Hampshire this year, given the factors in the 2016 race, some of which the incumbent senator can’t control. The headline read, “Tough Re-election for G.O.P. Moderate Is Getting Tougher.”

She may not always telegraph it, but Ms. Ayotte, a freshman senator, is locked in a herculean battle with the state’s popular Democratic governor, Maggie Hassan. As one of five Senate Republicans running for re-election in states that supported President Obama in both 2008 and 2012, Ms. Ayotte is seen as particularly vulnerable this November. […]

Six years ago, Ms. Ayotte was part of a Republican wave…. For Ms. Ayotte and other Republicans from that class, 2016 was always going to be a difficult year to run for re-election because more Democrats vote in presidential years. But with the possibility that Donald J. Trump, the most divisive Republican presidential candidate in a generation, will be at the top of the ticket, the party’s task may be all the more arduous.

The broader assessment seems entirely right: the GOP incumbent faces a strong Democratic challenger in a year in which Republicans in competitive states are likely to struggle. Walking the electoral tightrope will pose challenges.

But it’s the wording of the headline that jumped out at me: since when is Kelly Ayotte a “moderate”?

It’s challenging because, by some measures, Republican moderates no longer exist in any meaningful sense. FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver published an analysis last fall that noted, as a quantifiable matter, “The most conservative Republicans in the House 25 or 30 years ago would be among the most liberal members now.”

As GOP politics have become increasingly radicalized, what passes for Republican moderation has no real connection to anything resembling mainstream American centrism. Indeed, by most measures, Kelly Ayotte may not have a reputation as a wild-eyed partisan bomb-thrower, but her actual record is one of a far-right conservative.

Ayotte co-sponsored Ted Cruz’s bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, for example, without a replacement plan for the millions who’d lose their coverage. She filibustered a bipartisan bill to expand background checks before gun purchases. She’s voted, several times, to defund Planned Parenthood*. She joined the far-right in rejecting emergency disaster relief for Hurricane Sandy victims.

The list goes on. Ayotte rejected a clean debt-ceiling increase needed to prevent national default. She voted for Paul Ryan’s right-wing budget plan. She rejected a proposed increase of the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. Though she later regretted it, Ayotte even went along with her party’s government-shutdown scheme in 2013.

According to the most recent available information on the group’s website, the Club for Growth gives Ayotte a lifetime rating of 81% – and as of a few years ago, it was even higher. It’s partly why she’s been a featured guest at far-right gatherings such as the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).

Indeed, as I type, Ayotte has joined her party’s unprecedented Supreme Court blockade, rejecting a qualified nominee for reasons she and her party are still struggling to explain – a move even some of her GOP colleagues consider indefensible.

Sure, there are exceptions – Ayotte voted, for example, for the Gang of Eight’s immigration reform package – and the New Hampshire senator is hardly the most far-right member in the chamber, but the fact remains that there’s simply nothing about her record that says “moderate.”

My point is not to pick on the New York Times for the misplaced ideological label. Rather, what I think the Ayotte example offers is a reminder that the political world needs to rethink these assessments altogether, recognizing that actual Republican moderates are an endangered species, and being slightly less radical than extremists does not a moderate make.

When major news organizations start to think anyone to the left of Tom Cotton has credibility as a centrist, we lose sight of what matters: the Republican Party’s shift to the far-right has changed the nature of American politics in fundamental ways. Calling actual conservatives “moderates” only exacerbates the problem.

* Disclosure: My wife works for Planned Parenthood, but she played no role in this piece.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 30, 2016

March 31, 2016 Posted by | Conservatives, Kelly Ayotte, Moderate Republicans | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Voting Record On Gun Violence Could Tip The Scale”: Kelly Ayotte Should Be Worried About Losing Her Seat Over Gun Control

Gun violence “is something we should politicize,” President Barack Obama insisted in emotional, frustrated remarks on Thursday after a mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon left ten people dead.

Obama’s speech charged politicians to lead with gun control legislation, but he left out the more obvious point: Congress’s makeup needs to change if there’s any hope of ever passing the most basic of gun control legislation, universal background checks. This starts with targeting vulnerable pro-gun politicians and replacing them with Democrats or Republicans who better represent public opinion.

And no one is more vulnerable than Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, who faces reelection in a presidential swing state in 2016.

Ayotte is an incumbent of an unpopular Congress in a blue-leaning state. No matter what, she’d already face an uphill climb during a presidential year, when turnout is generally better for Democrats. But it’s her record on gun violence that could tip the scale in favor of Democrats.

After the Newtown, Conneticut shooting in late 2012, Ayotte was considered a possible GOP vote in favor of the Toomey-Manchin amendment to strengthen background checks. In the end, only four Republicans broke with their party to vote for the bill, leaving it to fail 54-46 in the Senate. Ayotte was one of the votes against it. For weeks after her vote, Ayotte faced tough questions at town halls over her vote, including one memorable encounter with the daughter of a Newtown victim. “You had mentioned that the burden to owners of gun stores that these expanded background checks would cause,” the daughter Erica Lafferty said. “I’m just wondering why the burden of my mother being gunned down in the hall of her elementary school isn’t as important as that?” Ayotte’s poll numbers fell. According to an April 2013 survey by the left-leaning Public Policy Polling, before the vote, 48 percent of New Hampshire voters approved of the job she was doing, while 35 percent disapproved. After the vote, she went underwater, with 44 percent approving while 46 percent disapproved. Since then, she’s recovered her poll numbers.

Ayotte won’t be the only Republican facing scrutiny for a pro-gun record. Other vulnerable politicians are in a similar position—in 2016, more Republicans are running in moderate swing states. Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Senator Rob Portman of Ohio also voted against background checks in 2013, face competitive Democratic challengers, and received intense scrutiny for their votes.

Now, none of this is a guarantee that gun control will remain a top concern 13 months from now, but there are some encouraging signs that 2016 might be a key moment for the gun violence movement, despite the political power of the National Rifle Association.

For one thing, they have deep-pocketed groups on their side: Independence PAC, Everytown for Gun Safety, and Mayors Against Illegal Guns, backed by Michael Bloomberg. These groups saw some unexpected, if spotty successes in a 2014 cycle, which otherwise went poorly for Democrats overall. Colorado ousted the pro-gun Republicans who had replaced legislators recalled over passing gun control and saw a successful ballot measure to expand background checks in Washington state.

Admittedly, there aren’t many examples of Democrats winning a seat from Republicans based on gun control alone. But it could motivate voters, particularly in states that have dealt with high-profile shootings of late. And Virginia might prove to be a model for 2016. Every seat in the Virginia General Assembly is up for election in 2015, and the narrowly Republican-controled legislature voted down background checks, while sending pro-gun bills to the Democratic governor (who vetoed). Republicans are expected to hold on to a majority, but since two Virginia journalists were slain on camera in August, guns have reemerged as an issue in the state. According to a late September poll from the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University, 14 percent of Virginia voters say reducing gun violence should be the top priority of state legislators, behind concerns over public schools and federal spending but above issues like health care and traffic.

As Virginia could show, it sometimes takes a tragedy to change the politics around gun violence. The changing politics around guns might mean bad news for Ayotte, too.

 

Rebecca Leber, Staff Writer for The New Republic; October 2, 2015

October 3, 2015 Posted by | Gun Violence, Kelly Ayotte, Mass Shootings, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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