FATE DEALT KELLY AYOTTE a tough hand this year: The emergence of Donald J. Trump as the Republican presidential nominee surely would have posed a challenge for any politician in Ayotte’s shoes. But the New Hampshire GOP senator flunked the Trump test, fumbling for months for a coherent position on whether she supported her party’s nativist, misogynistic, unqualified nominee.
The drama — which ended with Ayotte finally disavowing Trump, before the second presidential debate — reinforced doubts about her independence. Confronted with a candidate as bad as Trump, she never should have hesitated. The way she agonized over Trump instead is the final sign that Ayotte does not merit reelection, especially when her opponent, Maggie Hassan, the current New Hampshire governor, is so well qualified.
It’s unfortunate, because when Ayotte won her Senate seat in 2010, optimists hoped that the former state attorney general would reinforce the dwindling band of Northeastern GOP centrists. That tradition includes senators like Susan Collins from neighboring Maine. To be fair, Ayotte has made a few feints in that direction — for instance by challenging Senator Ted Cruz of Texas on his disastrous government shutdown strategy. And she is clearly hard-working and intelligent.
But when the chips are down, Ayotte too often falls right into line with the worst actors in the national GOP. It’s not just her reluctance to dump Trump, who had been abandoned by other New England Republicans, like Collins and Governor Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, long before Ayotte summoned up the courage to disavow him. She also followed Cruz and Mitch McConnell’s shameful blockade of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, a transparently partisan ploy. She has repeatedly voted to repeal Obamacare, and voted against a bipartisan proposal, in 2013, to expand background checks for guns purchased online or at gun shows.
Hassan has served two terms as governor and, before that, took the lead in passing same-sex marriage as a state senator. During her governorship, New Hampshire expanded its Medicaid program and reduced tuition at community colleges.
Another point in Hassan’s favor: If, four or eight years from now, Democrats were to nominate a candidate who promises to “open up” the First Amendment, it’s difficult to imagine Hassan ducking and weaving the way Ayotte has in response to Trump. (Please, governor, don’t prove us wrong.) Her backbone is a key difference between her and Ayotte, and why the Globe endorses Hassan for Senate in the Nov. 8 election.