Screencap of new ad hitting New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan.Citizens for a Strong New Hampshire via YouTube

A Republican outside group wants to inject New Hampshire’s growing heroin epidemic into the state’s 2016 Senate race.

The conservative nonprofit Citizens for a Strong New Hampshire is launching TV and digital ads against Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, suggesting her decision to veto Republican legislators' budget is “playing politics” with funding for drug prevention, as the state’s drug-related deaths hit an all-time high. Hassan is Democrats’ leading contender to take on first-term Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte in a battleground 2016 Senate race, but the governor has said she won’t make a decision on the race until she and the Republican-controlled state legislature reach agreement on a budget.

“A serious heroin epidemic has hit New Hampshire,” the narrator says in the new ad. “More people are dying from drugs and car accidents. But Gov. Maggie Hassan vetoed the state budget because she wants more taxes and fees to be a part of it. She’s holding new funding for drug prevention, treatment and recovery hostage, which could help save countless lives.”

Hassan said in June that she wouldn’t approve Republicans budget because it included “unpaid-for tax giveaways to big corporations.” She and the legislature have each proposed compromise budgets since then, but negotiations are still ongoing—and expected to last throughout the summer. Meanwhile, Republican outside groups have spent over $2.5 million attacking Hassan on TV and in other media, mostly with ads about the budget, seeking to damage her image ahead of a possible clash with Ayotte.

Heroin has become a major policy and political issue in New Hampshire, garnering attention from visiting presidential contenders as drug-related deaths in the state surpassed traffic deaths, suicides, and homicides, according to a report in the Concord Monitor. Ayotte and Hassan have each taken care to tout their work on the issue this year.

Ayotte wrote an op-ed for the Nashua Telegraph in early August saying that she’s working “across party lines to address this crisis.” Hassan held a town hall meeting with Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and state law enforcement to discuss the issue, saying that her own budget proposal included funds for a Manchester drug court.

The New Hampshire Democratic Party disputed the ad's attacks on Hassan, pointing to praise the governor received from a local substance abuse group for her work on the issue. 

Citizens for a Strong New Hampshire said in its release of the ad that the GOP budget would have “doubled prevention, treatment, and recovery funding to $6.7 million.”

This story has been updated to include additional information.

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