And it’s a race that will help decide the balance of power in the Senate, as Republicans defend a number of vulnerable seats in a cycle that has Democrats hoping to regain control of the chamber.
“New Hampshire Republicans have more moderate opinions on climate change and environmental regulation than you will find among Republicans elsewhere,” said Dante Scala, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire. “I think what she is hoping to do is to shore up her standing among independent voters here, which is net favorable, and I think she does so without fear of losing too many Republicans.”
Scala sees Ayotte seeking to take climate change and the environment “off the front burner” in the race.
The power-plant regulations are the central pillar of Obama’s second-term climate agenda, and they’re a top priority for environmentalists, including the groups that are most active in electoral politics.
The two groups with the biggest political operations—the League of Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club—both endorsed Ayotte’s Democratic opponent, Paul Hodes, in the 2010 race for the open seat that former Sen. Judd Gregg was vacating.
But the groups say they have not made any decisions about getting involved in the 2016 New Hampshire contest.
“It is a long way off in terms of LCV’s consideration of this race,” said Rob Werner, LCV’s New Hampshire state director. He called Ayotte’s stance on the climate plan “highly significant,” but added that LCV won’t make a decision on involvement in the race until sometime next year.
In 2010, the group spent at least $115,000 trying unsuccessfully to elect Hodes in his race against Ayotte, according to Federal Election Commission figures compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.
While the Sierra Club welcomes Ayotte’s stance on the power-plant rule, the group says its process will examine Ayotte’s record more broadly.
“Our endorsements originate from the ground up, and that process has not yet begun for this race. During the course of any endorsement consideration, multiple factors are taken into account, including a candidate’s voting record on policies designed to ensure that all American families have clean air, clean water, and a safe climate,” said Khalid Pitts, the group’s political director, in a statement to National Journal.
Similarly, an aide to California billionaire and climate activist Tom Steyer, who poured $74 million into various 2014 contests with mixed results and plans to get involved in multiple 2016 races, did not say whether he would spend money on the New Hampshire contest.
Ayotte’s campaign spokeswoman did not respond to an inquiry about whether she would seek the endorsement of environmental groups or is at least hoping they do not work against her in next year’s election.