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Ayotte jumps into race for NH governor, joining a growing list of candidates

Former Senator Kelly Ayotte
Allegra Boverman
for NHPR
Former U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte when she first won office. She lost reelection in 2016 to Democrat Maggie Hassan.

Former U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte has joined the race to become New Hampshire's next governor, the latest Republican to announce her candidacy since Gov. Chris Sununu said last week that he would not seek reelection in 2024.

Ayotte, 55, served as New Hampshire attorney general from 2004 to 2009, and was elected to the Senate in 2010, before narrowly losing in 2016 to then-Gov. Maggie Hassan.

Since leaving politics, Ayotte has served on numerous corporate boards, including BAE Systems, Caterpillar, the Blackstone Group and News Corp. Ayotte announcedher candidacy on the TV show “Fox and Friends” Monday, praising Sununu’s record and warning against electing a Democrat to the corner office.

“Gov. Sununu did a great job, but there is going to be a vacuum there, and we are one election away from becoming Massachusetts and I’m not going to let that happen,” Ayotte said.

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Ayotte underscored her opposition to statewide sales and income taxes, which she characterized as “evil.” She also said ensuring public safety would be her top priority as governor.

“That means getting those fentanyl dealers; we need tougher penalties to get them off our streets,” Ayotte said. “We need to end the revolving door because we have a weak bail law that Democrats pushed.”

Ayotte’s political profile is built on her background in law enforcement. She is the only woman to ever serve as New Hampshire attorney general. Appointed by former Gov. Craig Benson, a Republican for whom she’d previously served as legal counsel, Ayotte was reappointed to the position twice by Democratic Gov. John Lynch.

Along the way, she won national attention for defendinga law requiring parental notification for abortions that contained no emergency medical exception. Ayotte defended the law all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

She also led the team of prosecutors who wonthe state’s first death penalty case in decades, for the murder of former Manchester police officer Micheal Briggs.

New Hampshire has since repealed its death penalty law.

Ayotte joins former state Senate President Chuck Morse in the Republican primary for governor. Morse declared his candidacy last week, within minutes of Sununu’s announcement that he would not seek a fifth term.

State Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut, who ran for governor in 2016, is also considering getting into the Republican primary.

Two Democrats, Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington, and Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig, have already launched gubernatorial campaigns.

This article was first published at 10:10 a.m. July 24. It was updated with the latest NHPR report at 4:52 p.m.

Josh has worked at NHPR since 2000.
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