Horn's office started sparring with Hassan this month, making a right-to-know request about all of the governor's out-of-state travel in January—a request it says it plans to make every month. In a press release, Horn said the state's residents deserve to know that their governor, who Horn contends loses the power of her office when she leaves New Hampshire's borders, was using her position as a "stepping stone" to higher office.
Hassan's legal counsel said the law did not apply to the governorship in New Hampshire, but that elicited a response from state GOP lawmakers in Concord. They introduced legislation in the state Senate to close the loophole in the state's right-to-know law.
Politically, it does little to alter the course of a possible Senate campaign. But it is representative of a party that already is using all of its resources to tear down Hassan's bid before it even starts.
"[Hassan] will use this platform as a way to increase her own visibility and run for the next job," said Gov. Chris Christie, the former Republican Governors Association chairman and presidential candidate, at a local GOP dinner in Concord on Monday. "Let's be careful. We've got enough of those types in Washington, D.C., already. We don't need you to send any more there."
To many Republicans, Ayotte has remained a popular figure in New Hampshire since her landslide election victory in 2010. She has built a moderate reputation on issues like the environment, developed an expertise in foreign policy, and kept a personal touch with voters through town halls and other events.
But they're also cognizant that New Hampshire leans left in presidential years, and while Hassan isn't perfect, she's a popular governor who just won a relatively easy re-election in an otherwise dismal year for the party. If Hassan ran, Democrats would consider her one of their top recruits on the 2016 Senate map.
Which explains why, in the words of one senior Republican strategist in New Hampshire, the GOP will demonstrate a "campaign-level mentality" for as long as Hassan is a potential or real candidate.
"The prevailing assumption is Governor Hassan will run against Senator Ayotte, and until she says otherwise, she'll be treated like a candidate for Senate," the Republican operative said. "The right-to-know stuff is the tip of the iceberg."
Asked about a potential Senate candidacy, Hassan's gubernatorial spokesman issued a statement saying the governor was focused on trying to "bring people together to reach bipartisan solutions" in Concord.
Allies have said a decision won't come until after the legislative session in early summer at the earliest. And although they're optimistic she'll enter the race, it's "not that certain," according to Kathy Sullivan, a former Democratic state party chairwoman.
"I think she's really likes being governor," she added. "You get out there and talk to people in the state, and you're really in touch with constituents."