New Hampshire Senate race is tight despite Trump focus

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[October 15, 2016]  By Scott Malone

(Reuters) - New Hampshire's Senate race is a dead heat between incumbent Republican Kelly Ayotte and Governor Maggie Hassan, polls showed on Friday, with the tight contest showing the limits of the Democrat's attempt to tie her rival to Donald Trump.

Hassan at a debate on Friday lashed out at Ayotte for having said for months that she would vote for, but not endorse, Republican presidential nominee Trump, whose White House campaign is struggling to fight off allegations about groping women.

Ayotte changed her position following last weekend's release of a video in which Trump made lewd comments about women, saying she could not vote for him.

"Senator Ayotte until last Saturday was willing to vote to put Donald Trump in the Situation Room with access to the nuclear codes, and that shows a very concerning lack of judgment," Hassan said during a debate on WGIR-AM radio.

"I have renounced Donald Trump's statements on many occasions ... I have clearly stated where I stand on Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. I won't be voting for either of them," Ayotte said, adding that she planned to write-in a vote for Trump's running mate, Governor Mike Pence of Indiana.

A pair of new polls released Friday and late Thursday showed the New Hampshire race tied.

A MassInc/WBUR poll conducted Monday through Wednesday showed the Republican holding the support of 46 percent of 501 likely voters to Hassan's 45 percent. A UMass Lowell/7 News poll of 517 likely voters found a similarly close result, with Ayotte holding 45 percent support to Hassan's 44 percent. Both gaps were well within the polls' margins of error.

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Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) speaks at the No Labels Problem Solver Convention in Manchester, New Hampshire October 12, 2015. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

But that finding came as the UMass poll showed Clinton extending her lead in the state to a statistically significant 45 percent support ahead of Trump's 39 percent. That poll had a 4.4 percentage point margin of error.

Clinton's stronger lead in a four-way race, which also includes Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green party candidate Jill Stein, suggested that Hassan's effort to tie Ayotte to Trump was proving ineffective with the state's famously independent-minded voters.

"Senator Ayotte is a pretty well known commodity and her personality and views are strong," said Neil Levesque of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics. "You have Republicans who don't want to vote for Trump who are going to vote for Hillary but are also going to vote for Kelly Ayotte because they want her as a check and balance on a Clinton presidency."

(Reporting by Scott Malone in Boston; Editing by Alistair Bell)

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