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Dave Solomon has been a reporter or editor for New England news organizations since 1977. He has served as executive editor of both the Portsmouth Herald and the Nashua Telegraph. He joined the reporting staff of the New Hampshire Union Leader in 2012.

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May 05. 2013 8:15PM

John DiStaso's Granite Status: Aide: 'Harry Reid doesn't speak for' Kelly Ayotte

MONDAY, MAY 6: HARRY DOESN'T "SPEAK FOR" KELLY. A spokesman for Sen. Kelly Ayotte says Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid "doesn't speak for her" and that she stands by her votes on gun violence issues.


Reid, D-Nev., prompted speculation this weekend that Ayotte may "flip" and support the Manchin-Toomey universal background check bill if the bill comes up again on the Senate floor. In April, 54 senators voted for the Manchin-Toomey plan, six short of the 60 needed for passage.


The New Hampshire Republican was among 46 senators opposed, and she has since been the focus of intense criticism by gun control advocates.


The latest hit came Monday from Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which unveiled its second television ad against Ayotte on her Manchin-Toomey vote.


Reid talked about Ayotte in an interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal, a portion of which was provided to the Huffington Post.


Reid reportedly said:


"Joe Manchin called me yesterday. He thinks he has a couple more votes. The one senator, Republican Senator from New Hampshire (Ayotte), has been -- wham, man has she been hit hard. She's the only senator in the Northeast to vote against background checks. She went from a hugely positive number in New Hampshire -- her negatives now outweigh her positives. She is being hit every place she goes. So we are going to pick up some more votes. I may be able to get another Democrat or two. That would get us up to 57. We may only need three additional Republicans. So we'll see."


But Ayotte spokesman Liz Johnson told the Granite Status Monday evening, "Harry Reid doesn't speak for Senator Ayotte. She stands by her votes to fix the current background check system, enhance prosecutions, and strengthen the mental health system."


Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the national gun control advocacy group co-chaired by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Boston Mayor Tom Menino, raps Ayotte with an ad contending her vote against Manchin-Toomey ignored the wishes of her constituents and showed she has "gone Washington" and sided with the National Rifle Association "lobby."


Ayotte responds to these and other ads and efforts critical of her in an opinion piece prepared for Wednesday's New Hampshire Union Leader, in which she says "out-of-state special interests" have been "lying" about her efforts to prevent gun-related violence.



The new ad from the Mayors' group will air in Manchester and Boston over the next week in rotation with the group's initial ad.



The ad notes that when Ayotte was campaigning in 2010, she said Washington "needs a good dose of New Hampshire common sense."



A narrator says 89 percent of New Hampshire residents support comprehensive background checks, but that she opposed "a tough-on-crime" background check bill proposed by a "conservative, pro-gun Democrat and Republican" that "keeps guns away from criminals while protecting the Second Amendment."



"No to police. No to fighting crime. No to background checks for criminals. That's not New Hampshire common sense. That's gone Washington," the ad says.



The new ad and the earlier one can be seen at DemandAction.org/Ayotte.


In a statement released in conjunction with the new ad, Zandra Rice Hawkins of Granite State Progress, said Ayotte "sided with the NRA lobby over the 89 percent of her constituents who support background checks. It is clear from her under-publicized town halls and refusal to engage in real conversation that she thinks her constituents will just forget about her vote. We are here to tell her that's not true. New Hampshire is a pro-gun state, but it is also a pro-gun safety state.


"Senator Ayotte needs to stop pandering to the NRA lobbyists and instead stand up for her constituents, or else they will find someone who will," Rice Hawkins said.


Ayotte spokesman Johnson countered, "This misleading attack from an out-of-state special interest group is completely false.


"Senator Ayotte voted for legislation that had bipartisan support to fix the current broken background check system, increase the prosecution of those who illegally seek to obtain firearms, and provide additional resources for school safety, while protecting the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens," said Johnson.


"She also worked across party lines to successfully pass legislation to strengthen the nation's mental health system."


And in the opinion piece, Ayotte writes:


"Some of my colleagues want to expand the broken background check system we have now. In my view, we shouldn't be expanding a flawed system. The focus should be on fixing the existing system, which criminals are flouting. We need to make sure we are enforcing current law and prosecuting those who attempt to illegally obtain firearms. And we must ensure that NICS includes records currently not being entered in the system, including mental health adjudications where an individual is found to be a danger to themselves and others."



She also writes, "There are no easy answers. Even if the proposed expansion of background checks had been in place, it wouldn't have prevented the Sandy Hook tragedy - where the perpetrator obtained the firearms he used by killing his own mother, who owned them lawfully."



Members of New Hampshire's law enforcement community came to Ayotte's defense.



In a joint statement, chiefs Dick Crate of Enfield and Mike Sielicki of Kensington and retired chiefs Russ Lary of Grantham, John Tholl of Dalton, and retired Christopher Connelly of Dunbarton said:



"These attacks are false. We worked with Kelly Ayotte when she was attorney general, and no one has fought harder to prosecute criminals. When it comes to preventing violence, Senator Ayotte has kept her focus where it belongs – improving the background check system and strengthening mental health services."




(Our earlier, full May 6 Granite Status report follows. For earlier Granite Status reports click on "Granite Status" above.)
MONDAY, MAY 6: THANKS KARL. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen's campaign picked up on former George W. Bush senior adviser Karl Rove's interesting description of former Mass. Sen. Scott Brown and Shaheen in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece gauging the chances of the GOP regaining control of the U.S. Senate next year.

After reviewing other races, Rove wrote, "Elsewhere, competitive races could yet develop such as in New Hampshire, where former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown may challenge freshman Democrat Jeanne Shaheen. He's a ninth generation Granite Stater; she was born in Missouri."

Brown, of course, was born in Kittery, Maine.

The Shaheen camp immediately tried to raise money from the Rove mention of Brown, saying in a campaign email, with the subject "Rove," that, "The truth doesn't matter - all (Rove) sees in Scott Brown is a serial campaigner with the backing of outside Super PACs that can dump a lot of money into New Hampshire."

And so the beat goes on.

Shaheen would have no trouble raising money regardless of who her opponent turns out to be next year, but no doubt her supporters are thanking Brown, who has turned out to be the catalyst for a fund-raising windfall for the Democratic senator.

PARTISANSHIP REIGNS. What a week it was on the increasingly shrill partisan battleground that is New Hampshire.

The top subject of the discord was Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who has managed to become the focal point nationally in the gun control debate.

Ayotte's vote more than two weeks ago against expanded criminal background checks prompted national coverage that continued through last week when relatives of shooting victims appeared at her town halls to try to question her on her vote.

Those questioners included Erica Lafferty, whose mother, Dawn Hochsprung, was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre last December.

Friday, the Huffington Post reported that Ayotte cited scheduling conflicts in declining to meet with Anne Lyczak, whose husband, Richard, was killed in a drive-by shooting in Portsmouth in 1994.

The focus on Ayotte began within days of the mid-April vote, when former Arizona U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' new advocacy group and PAC, Americans for Responsible Solutions, began airing radio ads in the state, critical of Ayotte.

The NRA followed with its own radio ad, lauding Ayotte for "focusing on meaningful bipartisan solutions to our nation's problems," and knowing that "the only way to prevent tragedies like Sandy Hook is to fix our broken mental health system."

The ad also says she showed courage to oppose "misguided gun control laws" that the NRA says would not have prevented Sandy Hook.

As the national press flocked to Ayotte's town halls, the state Democratic Party unveiled a new web site, NRAyotte.com, charging she voted in the NRA's interest and not New Hampshire's. Democrats also gave Ayotte a new Twitter hashtag of the same name.

Her office and her supporters have said reports of her position were "distorted" and that she has supported fixing the current background check system and stepping up prosecution of those who illegally seek to obtain firearms and has tried to strengthen the mental health system.

State Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley found himself in the mix when he admitted to screening questions submitted at Ayotte's Tilton town hall meeting to eliminate question about background checks. He said she had addressed the issue in her initial talk.

Republicans then cried foul when a group of activists from President Barack Obama's Organizing for Action group protested outside of Ayotte's office with signs. One said "Shame on You" and another, splattered with fake blood, said, "More shot per day than marathoned."

That protest earned a note on Fox News.

Ayotte is not up for reelection for another three years. Will the issue still be with her then?

UNH associate political science professor Andy Smith says Ayotte "has definitely been targeted both inside and nationally by the Democratic Party and this is the beginning of a long-term effort to unseat her."

But he said that between now and November 2016, "there will be dozens of issues that come up."

While the Sandy Hook tragedy has raised awareness of the issue, he said, generally "gun control is way down the list of things that voters are concerned about."

We shall see.

NORELLI AND THE NCSL. Then there was the rancor over the Internet sales tax.

New Hampshire House speaker Terie Norelli happens to be the president of the National Conference of State Legislatures this year, just at the time that the organization strongly backs requiring retailers to collect sales taxes for purchases made online by residents of states that have sales taxes.

That would include retailers in New Hampshire, which of course has no sales tax and would stand to lose some of its tax advantage for online purchasers.

As Shaheen filed an amendment that would protect businesses in non-sales tax states being forced to collect sales taxes from other states in their online sales, the state Republican Party called on Norelli to have the state stop paying dues to the NCLS.

The Democrats shot back that $120,000 in dues being paid the NCLS were approved by the last Legislature, which was controlled by Republicans.

A Norelli spokesman also pointed out that the when the NCLS voted to back the internet sales tax last August, she cast New Hampshire's "no" vote, along with Montana and Alaska. Forty states voted "yes."

QUICK TAKES:

--At the State House, veteran lobbyist Rick Newman said Friday that he is parting ways with the gambling facility in Belmont now known as Lakes Region Casino, formerly Lakes Region Greyhound Park. Newman represented the facility for 18 years and says he will continue to lobby for other clients.

--There's a big week ahead at the State House on the gambling front as the joint House Finance and Ways and Means Committee will receive reports from their three subcommittees on Senate Bill 152. Next week, most likely, the so-called "supercommittee" will report the bill to the full House. Leadership's goal is to have a vote on May 22, but it's possible it may be held off for another week.

John DiStaso is senior political reporter of the New Hampshire Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News. He can be reached at jdistaso@unionleader.com. Follow him on Twitter: @jdistaso.

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