On Kelly Ayotte, Penn Stater in the U.S. Senate
Our September/October issue includes a profile of Kelly Ayotte ’90, the U.S. senator from New Hampshire who is in the midst of a tough reelection battle. Outside of the presidential campaign, Ayotte’s race is one of this election year’s most intriguing: A working mother and her state’s first female attorney general, she is among the most prominent female Republicans in the nation, widely seen as one of the party’s bright hopes. She’s got strong conservative credentials, but also boasts one of the more bi-partisan records in the Senate.
For all that, she’s in a virtual dead heat with her challenger, Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan. (New Hampshire holds its Senate primary next Tuesday, Sept. 13, but Ayotte is expected to easily defeat her challenger, former state senator Jim Rubens.) It’s a race that’s drawing attention well beyond the borders of the Granite State, as the outcome could decide control of the Senate. The ad below offers a look at how Ayotte is handling the challenge.
Not surprisingly, Donald Trump has become one of the defining issues of Ayotte’s campaign. She’s tried to walk a fine line with regard to the GOP presidential nominee, publicly calling him out for his comments about the parents of a Muslim-American soldier who spoke at the Democratic National Convention, and saying more than once that she won’t endorse him; still, she has reiterated that she plans to vote for Trump in November. In a state with a strong independent streak, Ayotte’s ability to balance party loyalty with public sentiment may decide the election.
Party loyalty and public sentiment were two factors we had in mind when we scheduled this feature to run just a couple of months before the election. Not surprisingly, we’ve heard from a handful of readers who took issue with both the subject and the timing of our story, essentially accusing us of promoting a partisan agenda. For us, the subject—the highest ranking alumnus currently in public office, one whose name has more than once been connected to potential presidential tickets—makes Ayotte an obvious choice for coverage in The Penn Stater. Alumni don’t get much more prominent than sitting U.S. senators.
Regarding the timing, we discussed our own concerns about running the story in the run-up to the election, and knew at least a few readers might see it as something akin to a campaign ad. Ultimately, we felt that the timing—the fact that Ayotte’s in a neck-and-neck battle to keep her seat, and the implications for both her party and her career—is part of what makes the story compelling. We’re also confident that, when it comes to a national politician with strong feelings on issues like gun control or abortion, some readers won’t want to read it no matter when it might run.
As for accusations of bias, we know that comes with the territory. In the past year, I’ve had the chance to profile union leader Richard Trumka and conducted an interview with a group of Penn State’s Muslim students; after each story, we received letters decrying our obvious liberal bias—and, in some cases, much worse. We trust that most of our readers will appreciate our desire to tell good stories about interesting Penn Staters, no matter their political ideology or religious beliefs. And that we’ll continue to get your letters when you disagree.
Ryan Jones, deputy editor