Opinion

ERIC FEHRNSTROM

N.H. Senate race pivots to national security

Republican Kelly Ayotte (left), the incumbent, is facing Democrat Maggie Hassan, New Hampshire’s outgoing governor.

Associated press file photos

Republican Kelly Ayotte (left), the incumbent, is facing Democrat Maggie Hassan, New Hampshire’s outgoing governor.

The Orlando terror attack is going to have a ripple effect on the 2016 elections, maybe none more so than in the closely watched Senate race in New Hampshire, between incumbent Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte and her Democratic challenger, Governor Maggie Hassan.

The shooting at the gay nightclub Pulse, by an Afghan-American who pledged loyalty to the Islamic State, shifts the focus of the race to terrorism. Reports the shooter might have been gay himself does not change his jihadist worldview. Hassan’s lack of national security experience, made more glaring by her weak and indecisive policies, is now front and center.

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The latest poll, at the end of May, from the Boston Herald/Franklin Pierce University showed a virtual dead heat, with Ayotte holding a nominal one-point lead, 48-47. What makes the race so competitive is that Hassan is besting Ayotte among independents, 51-42.

New Hampshire has more independent voters than it does members of either party: 44 percent, compared to 30 percent Republican and 26 percent Democrat. Asked in the Herald poll to identify their most important issues, independents ranked terrorism (25 percent) second only to the economy (42 percent), close to the percentage of Republicans expressing concern about terror (29 percent) and far more than Democrats (9 percent).

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This does not bode well for Hassan, a neophyte when it comes to foreign affairs, especially when compared with Ayotte. As a member of the Senate committees on armed services and homeland security, Ayotte has aligned herself with defense hawks like Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham.

Like President Obama and Hillary Clinton, Hassan refuses to utter the words “radical Islam,” a naïve bow to political correctness puzzling to military experts who believe identifying a foe is the first step to defeating it. She cites Senator Jeanne Shaheen as one of her advisers on foreign policy, the same Shaheen who said Boko Haram, the Islamist terrorist group responsible for kidnapping hundreds of Nigerian girls and forcibly converting them to Islam, is not Islamist.

By spreading confusion about the identity of the enemy we are fighting, Hassan — like her mentor, Shaheen — causes people to conflate what happened in Orlando with Columbine or Sandy Hook. Concerning motive, they could not be more unalike.

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Those who reflexively think the answer is more gun control overlook that terrorists will use whatever is at hand — knives, cars, pressure cookers, even airplanes. As if to prove the point, the day after Orlando, a terrorist pledging allegiance to the Islamic State stabbed to death a French police captain outside the policeman’s house in Paris, then used the same knife to slaughter the man’s girlfriend in front of the couple’s three-year-old son.

And those New Hampshire independents? Only 9 percent think gun control is an important issue.

Following last November’s terror attacks in France, Hassan called for a temporary halt on Syrian refugees coming into the United States until there are guarantees that none have ties to terrorism. Yet, earlier this month, it was discovered that 170 refugees, including an unspecified number from Syria, are being resettled in Manchester, Concord, and Nashua starting in September.

Hassan could cite no change in policy to account for the reversal, and no guarantees, only a vague reference to “improved communications” with federal agencies.

What makes this worrisome is that Hassan also claims to be opposed to Obama’s plan to close Guantanamo unless there is a plan “to keep our citizens safe and protect America’s security.” But given her empty posturing, how can the people of New Hampshire trust her?

For Ayotte and Hassan, winning over independents is the key to victory. Hassan may find whatever advantage she enjoyed prior to Orlando is changing just as quickly as her position on Syrian refugees.

Eric Fehrnstrom is a Republican political analyst and media strategist, and was a senior adviser to Governor Mitt Romney.
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