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Kelly Ayotte's popularity plunges after 'no' vote on background checks

US Republican Senator from New Hampshire Kelly Ayotte speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, on March 15, 2013.  (Photo by Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)
US Republican Senator from New Hampshire Kelly Ayotte speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, on March 15...

Sen. Kelly Ayotte’s approval rating in her home state fell 15 points following the New Hampshire Republican’s vote against background checks for gun sales last week. She now has a negative approval rating, with just 44% of voters approving of her job performance and 46% disapproving, according to a new survey by the left-leaning firm, Public Policy Polling.

The tanking approval ratings hit the first-term senator as she continues her ascent as a major player in the GOP leadership. Ayotte was inducted into the inner circle of GOP stalwart Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham during the Republican crusade against U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice last fall, and during the 2012 election cycle, she appeared on the shortlist of vice presidential candidates to join the GOP ticket.

Fifty percent of New Hampshire voters now say Ayotte's 'no' vote on background checks makes them less likely to support her in a future election, compared to just 23% New Hampshire voters said her 'no' vote would be a positive factor in deciding their vote. PPP notes that 75% of New Hampshire voters say they support background checks. This is the first indication that senators who voted against background checks, something the vast majority of Americans support, may face a backlash at home, too.

Ayotte was one of a handful of swing votes on the Senate vote on background checks, which failed 54-46. Ayotte said the morning of the vote that she would “not support the Manchin-Toomey legislation, which I believe would place unnecessary burdens on law-abiding gun owners and allow for potential overreach by the federal government into private gun sales.”

Former Arizona Democratic Rep. Gabby Gifford's super PAC, Americans for Responsible Solutions, has already begun targeting Ayotte in radio ads for her vote.

"We all know what happens to a politician whose numbers fall into the low forties, and then slips into the thirties. It stays on you. That is a cloud that doesn't go away." msnbc's Joe Scarborough said. "This is just the beginning for Kelly Ayotte."

"So what's the logic?" asked msnbc's Willie Geist.

Another ‘no’ voter, North Dakota Democrat Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, has vocally defended her vote against the bill. A Mayors Against Illegal Guns poll found 94% of her constituents support the bill, but Heitkamp has said she doubts the poll's accuracy because in the days leading up to the vote, her office was flooded with callers demanding she vote against the bill. “I think I always had a reputation as somebody who will listen, somebody who is pretty independent-minded but also believes that at the end of the day, you got to listen to your constituents,” Heitkamp told Politico.

“Heidi Heitkamp is worried about–I don’t even think it’s 6%, it’s probably 4%,” said Scarborough. “Heidi Heitkamp wants to be a United States senator but she’s not tough enough to handle 4% of her constituents calling in her office a lot? She's not even taking the phone calls! This is one of the saddest, most pathetic votes I've ever seen in Washington, D.C.”

Scarborough and co-host Mika Brzezinski railed against the 45 senators who voted against background checks last week, calling each individual senator out for their vote.

Another PPP poll released on Tuesday found that in a traditionally-conservative district in South Carolina, 45% of voters said the GOP's opposition to background checks would make them less likely to support the party in the future.