Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) is one of the Senate's most vulnerable incumbents, and unlike her first election in 2010, the New Hampshire Republican won't be able to count on strong GOP turnout alone to improve her chances. With that in mind, Ayotte is eager to tell Granite State voters about her support for criminal background checks before gun purchases.
The Huffington Post reported yesterday on a new Ayotte campaign commercial, "suggesting she voted for new gun background checks," and featuring a local police chief, Atkinson's Al Brackett, praising the GOP senator's work.
"When you see those false ads attacking Kelly Ayotte, remember the truth," Brackett says [in the ad]. "Kelly's voted for background checks, with more prosecutions and tougher penalties on criminals."
On screen, viewers see a straightforward message: "Kelly Ayotte: Voted For Background Checks."
The problem with the claim is that the truth keeps getting in the way.
In April 2013, the Senate considered a bipartisan background-check proposal, co-sponsored by conservative lawmakers: Pennsylvania's Pat Toomey and West Virginia's Joe Manchin. Despite overwhelming public support for the legislation, the vote, held just five months after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary, didn't go well: a 54-member majority supported the Manchin/Toomey amendment, while 46 opposed it. (Technically, it would have been 55-45, but then-Majority Leader Harry Reid had to switch his vote for procedural reasons.)
Because of Republican obstructionist tactics, proponents needed a 60-vote supermajority and came up short.
Ayotte was one of the senators who ignored public attitudes and the merits of the bipartisan legislation, choosing instead to side with the NRA and the far-right. The record is not in dispute: here's the final roll call. Note that four Republicans broke party ranks and supported the measure, but Ayotte wasn't one of them. She voted "nay."
I realize memories are short, but the controversy that followed was severe. Ayotte's approval rating took a hit and many of her New Hampshire constituents expressed their deep disappointment with her poor judgment during town-hall meetings.
So how is it, exactly, that Ayotte is now running ads bragging about having "voted for background checks"?
Apparently, the Republican senator is playing a little rhetorical game. Ayotte, like many other GOP senators worried about their re-election, supported a rival background-check bill backed by the NRA and described at the time as "a milquetoast proposal ... [that] does nothing to make it harder for criminals to buy firearms at private sales or gun shows, where background checks are not required by law."
In other words, Ayotte and her supporters aren't technically lying, so much as the senator is just hoping voters don't pay close attention to the details. When her campaign ads claim she "voted for background checks," Ayotte isn't referring to the actual, meaningful bill on background checks -- the bill the political world watched and considered important -- but rather some weak knock-off that wouldn't have had a meaningful policy impact.
Or put another way, Ayotte is embarrassed by her voting record on preventing gun violence, and instead of defending what she's done in office, the New Hampshire Republican finds it easier to mislead voters.