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Kelly Ayotte is running against ... us

For the woman who would be New Hampshire’s next governor, running against Massachusetts is easier than running against her opponents in the Republican primary.

Former Republican senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire spoke at a campaign rally in 2020.Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press

Well, that hurts.

“I’m running for governor because New Hampshire is one election away from becoming Massachusetts,” former US senator Kelly Ayotte has said repeatedly since she announced her candidacy for governor in the Granite State on Monday.

Apparently, our state is a freedom-hating, high-tax hell scape, teeming with drug dealers from Lawrence and Lowell who prey on the decent citizens to the north.

But what about our stellar education system? What about our Afflecks and our Damons and our biotech companies and what have you? Why, with the whole country to choose from, noted state-evaluating authority WalletHub recently ranked ours the best state to live in. Ayotte’s came in sixth.


“Unlike Massachusetts, New Hampshire is a beacon of economic and personal freedom. We have the best business environment in the country with no sales, income or estate taxes,” read a statement issued by Ayotte’s campaign when I requested more specifics. “Our state is the best place to raise a family and to start and grow a business.”

Who will defend us against these insults? Governor Maura Healey, who grew up in New Hampshire, refused to be drawn by Ayotte’s provocation.

“The Republican primary doesn’t interest me. I’m focused on what’s happening here in Massachusetts,” she said, before retiring to sob in private, probably.

If Ayotte doesn’t like us, we must be pretty awful. Then again, maybe the Republican candidate doesn’t dislike us. Maybe it’s just easier for her to run against Massachusetts than it is to run against her likely opponents for the party nomination.

In New Hampshire, as in the rest of the country, the GOP has become the bar scene from “Star Wars,” dominated by extremists, conspiracy theorists, culture war obsessives, and cultish devotees of former president Donald Trump. They’re the people Republicans have to win over in primaries these days.


It’s a pickle for candidates in swing states like New Hampshire, which has tilted blue in the last few presidential elections: The policy positions that get you to the top of the primary ticket become a drag during the general.

For example, there is plenty in Ayotte’s record to delight antiabortion absolutist primary voters. She supported overturning Roe v. Wade, and voted for a national 20-week abortion ban. But how will all of that fly if Ayotte makes it into the general? In New Hampshire, as in even more conservative states, abortion has become a drag on Republicans since a majority of the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Polls show large majorities of voters support abortion rights.

Ayotte is also leaning hard into the culture wars, cozying up to Moms for Liberty and others convinced their white children are being indoctrinated in school by teachers pushing socialism, Marxism, hurtful history lessons, gender ideology, and trans rights in the classroom.

“Kelly will not be afraid to hold educators and administrators accountable when they inappropriately bring politics or gender ideology into the classroom,” her campaign site proclaims.

It has to be loud about all this, because one of her likely opponents in the primary is Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut, who came within a hair of defeating the outgoing governor, Chris Sununu, in the last gubernatorial primary. Edelblut, who homeschooled his seven children, is all-in on the fantasy that teachers are indoctrinating students.


But how will the anti-trans parents’ rights stuff play out with a younger, more liberal general electorate in the Live Free or Die state?

If Ayotte prevails, she’ll have to take on pretzel-like qualities. But she’s been there before. Her contortions on Trump — support for whom is still the litmus test for many Republican voters — was painful to watch when she ran for reelection in 2016. Ayotte supported him but declined to endorse him. In a debate, she said Trump was “absolutely” a role model for children, then walked back her remarks a few hours later. She withdrew her support after the “Access Hollywood” tape revealed him boasting about sexually assaulting women.

It’s a difficult spot to be in: She hasn’t sufficiently embraced Trump to please his cultists, but she hasn’t distanced herself from him enough to sway general election voters.

It will be a treacherous road for Ayotte, but she might yet prevail. All the woman who would be New Hampshire’s next governor has to do is keep her focus on Massachusetts.

Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham can be reached at Follow her @GlobeAbraham.