New Hampshire, too?

NEW HAMPSHIRE, TOO?…. Following up on the last item, Republicans’ chances of winning back the Senate would clearly be better if stronger candidates were surviving GOP primaries. We’ve seen this over and over again, with races that should have been easy for Republicans — Kentucky, Nevada, Alaska — becoming competitive with extremist nominees. As Delaware helps demonstrate, the list isn’t quite done, either.

And then there’s New Hampshire. Republicans successfully recruited former state Attorney General Kelly Ayotte (R), who quickly became the frontrunner in the open Senate race. She has a reputation for being something of a moderate, and was well positioned for November.

You can probably guess what happened next. Ayotte found herself in a primary, and quickly shifted to the far-right. All of a sudden, she became open to changing the 14th Amendment; she thought it made sense to reduce the deficit by increasing the deficit; she announced her opposition to Elena Kagan’s Supreme Court nomination for no apparent reason; and she decided that she no longer accepted the notion of man-made global warming.

Asked for one area in which she disagrees with the Republican Party, Ayotte replied, “Nothing comes to mind.” So much for being an “independent” voice.

Just as important, though, Ayotte is learning that being merely conservative isn’t always good enough when Republicans are demanding very conservative candidates.

This weekend brought a reminder that more insurgents could still sneak through. In a Sunday editorial, New Hampshire’s largest newspaper, the Union Leader, endorsed insurgent Ovide Lamontagne, one of four Republicans running in the September 14 primary for the seat now held by Judd Gregg. Lamontagne’s bid has seemed hopeless for months, with polls showing him running far behind state Attorney General Kelly Ayotte, the state and national GOP establishment’s preferred candidate.

But the Union Leader’s decision could provide Lamontagne with a spark. The fiercely conservative paper is unusually influential in right-wing circles and it tends to promote its chosen candidates more aggressively than other newspapers do.

The primary is two weeks from today, and the winner will almost certainly face Rep. Paul Hodes (D) in November. If Ayotte falters, Democratic hopes of picking up the seat grow considerably.