At first it was a mention in passing. But now, it appears clear that New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte is seriously being considered as a running mate for Mitt Romney.
She doesn’t appear necessarily to have the inside track, considering names like former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie are in the mix. But that Ayotte is getting this much consideration and attention alone helps set up her blossoming political career.
“I don’t think it’s surprising that Romney is considering her as a possible running mate,” said political analyst Dean Spiliotes. “She has a good rapport with him and they have a New Hampshire connection since he is a part-time resident. She’s been out on the stump with him around the country.”
Ayotte has said what prospective vice presidential candidates typically say. She’s happy serving the people of New Hampshire. She certainly hasn’t denied she’s under consideration.
But Ayotte has some obstacles in her way. Aside from other candidates, the big one would be Sarah Palin. There was so much controversy surrounding Palin’s pick four years ago by then-nominee John McCain. Was she qualified? Was she properly vetted? Was she up to the task? Ayotte might not be Palin, but it could presumably be easy for people to see her that way, Spiliotes said.
Spiliotes said he didn’t think the idea of vetting a woman for the job was a problem. He said he thinks people are perfectly comfortable with that as more and more women have reached the upper echelons of American politics.
“But the choice of Sarah Palin four years ago raised all kinds of questions about being prepared to be president,” Spiliotes said.
A fresh face
Ayotte was elected in 2010 and served as attorney general in New Hampshire prior to that. She was long seen as a potential rising political star. But, having only been elected two years ago, she’s still a fresh face on the national scene.
“My sense is that the Romney people, when they pick somebody, you’re going to hear the name and it’s going to be someone who absolutely has enough experience,” Spiliotes said.
That is a little limiting for Ayotte. Sure, she may be qualified, and Spiliotes wasn’t suggesting she wasn’t qualified for the job, but this time around, he figured, Romney isn’t going to take any chances. If Ayotte is the pick, Spiliotes thought the temptation to draw parallels to Palin would be too great. That could be a problem for anyone who is particularly new on the national scene, unless they’ve been a governor, Spiliotes said.
Ayotte is sort of part of a group of young, energetic Republican leaders. She does provide a nice contrast to Romney, who has been on the political scene for a while. Rubio and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan fall into the same category, though they may have larger national profiles.
That New Hampshire is a swing state helps Ayotte’s cause. Though it probably goes without saying that a swing state like Florida has a little more cachet, depending on how much a factor the Romney camp considers that.
Republicans have long suggested President Barack Obama, who was in the Senate for one term before being elected, lacked sufficient experience to be president. It’s possible that if Romney picked Ayotte, who is two years into her first six-year term in the Senate, it would hamstring him a little in terms of his and other Republicans’ criticism of Obama’s experience.
“They’d probably figure out ways to finesse it,” Spiliotes said, adding the GOP would probably try to suggest Obama was running for president the entire time he was in the Senate, while Ayotte has been working on policy.
A status bump
That Ayotte, just two years into her Senate term, is getting this kind of national attention bodes well for her.
“It absolutely helps her status among political elites,” Spiliotes said, noting that Ayotte appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press, and was asked directly about the vice presidency.
In 2000, when Al Gore was running for president, now-Sen. Jeanne Shaheen’s name was floated as a potential running mate for Gore. That got her national visibility as well, Spiliotes said.
“It’s almost better to have that early in your career, not that you’re necessarily chosen and subjected to all that, but to get your name on the short list,” Spiliotes said. “It does give her some cachet.”
Spiliotes figures Ayotte won’t be the choice in the end, but her elevated visibility and rapport with Romney could help to land her a nice post in a Romney administration, such as attorney general, or White House counsel. It could just solidify her position in the Senate. Regardless, her efforts in helping the Romney campaign are likely to pay dividends for her. Spiliotes said he thought the rapport the two had presumably developed on the campaign trail has certainly helped her.
“It’s almost better if she’s not chosen and then she can use it to boost her visibility,” Spiliotes said.