By John Celock
U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) maintains a lead over Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) in a hypothetical 2016 match-up.
In a poll released Thursday morning, Ayotte leads Hassan 48.1 percent to 42.5 percent. The poll was conducted by the New England College Polling Institute for the New Hampshire Journal, which reported the results this morning. The New Hampshire Senate race is expected to be one of the most competitive of 2016.
Hassan, who was reelected to a second term last month, has not indicated if she is planning to challenge Ayotte in 2016. Hassan, a former state senator first elected to the governorship in 2012, is viewed as the strongest possible challenger to the first term Ayotte. Hassan has been mentioned as a potential candidate by Washington Democrats looking to oust Ayotte in a battle for Senate control.
Ayotte, a former state attorney general elected in 2010, is viewed as potential top target for Democrats, owing to the swing state nature of New Hampshire and the high turnout from the presidential race. This year’s battle between Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and former Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), won by Shaheen, was a top contest.
Hassan would have to forgo a bid for a third term in the governor’s mansion in order to make the Senate race. The last New Hampshire governor to seek a Senate seat was Shaheen, who did not seek a fourth term as chief executive to unsuccessfully seek a Senate seat in 2002. Shaheen would later defeat former Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.) in 2008.
Speculation over the 2016 Senate contest comes as Hassan prepares to face an all Republican state legislature over the next two years. In her first term, Republicans controlled the state Senate, while Democrats held control of the state House.
Hassan received a boost Wednesday when the House elected state Rep. Shawn Jasper (R-Hudson) as the new speaker, in an upset over Rep. Bill O’Brien (R-Mont Vernon). Jasper, who is viewed as more moderate than the tea party aligned O’Brien, won the speakership in an upset by uniting moderate Republicans and Democrats behind his candidacy. O’Brien had been viewed as the speaker-elect after his November win in a GOP caucus.
Jasper is considered more likely to work with Hassan than O’Brien, who was known as a very combative relationship with former Gov. John Lynch (D) during his previous stint as speaker.