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A new poll finds New Hampshire Republican senator Kelly Ayotte’s approval rating has dropped sharply, as she faces a torrent of criticism for voting to block expanded gun sale background checks against the wishes of her constituents.

Although Ayotte raised reformers’ hopes by voting for cloture to allow the background check bill to be debated, she ultimately chose to vote against the measure, guaranteeing its defeat.

“I believe that restricting the rights of law-abiding gun owners will not prevent a deranged individual or criminal from obtaining and misusing firearms to commit violence, Ayotte said in a statement at the time. “While steps must be taken to improve the existing background check system, I will not support the Manchin-Toomey legislation, which I believe would place unnecessary burdens on law-abiding gun owners and allow for potential overreach by the federal government into private gun sales.”

The backlash to her decision has been swift and severe. According to a Public Policy Polling poll released Wednesday, the freshman senator’s approval rating has plunged to 44 percent, with 46 percent disapproving. That represents a 15 percent net drop from PPP’s previous poll in October.

It’s clear that Ayotte’s vote on background checks contributed to her decline. The poll finds that 75 percent of New Hampshire voters support requiring background checks on individuals who purchase guns at gun shows, with just 21 percent opposed. When asked what they thought about Ayotte’s vote to block background checks, 50 percent said it makes them less likely to support her for re-election, while just 23 percent said it makes them more likely.

Among self-described moderates, the damage is even worse. Just 30 percent of moderates approve of Ayotte, compared to 61 percent who disapprove, and 66 percent of moderates say that Ayotte’s vote makes them less likely to support her re-election.

The poll also finds that Maggie Hassan, New Hampshire’s Democratic governor, would now lead Ayotte 46 to 44 percent in a hypothetical 2016 Senate election.

“New Hampshire is a good bellwether for fallout from the gun vote,” Public Policy Polling president Dean Debnam said in a statement. “There’s serious backlash from voters toward Kelly Ayotte for how she handled this issue.”

That backlash has also been on display in the local papers. On Wednesday, Concord Monitor editor Felice Belman felt the need to respond to a reader who complained that the paper was publishing an “inordinate” number of letters criticizing Ayotte, by explaining that “the volume of mail has certainly been extraordinary.”

“The letters critical of Ayotte may seem redundant, but the sheer volume is making a point about the fury of local residents over the vote in a way that news reporting hasn’t,” Belman wrote. “Consider the writers’ language in describing Ayotte: ‘out of touch,’ ‘enabler’ of mass murderers, ‘spineless’ and ‘disgusting.‘”

Another New Hampshire paper, the Portsmouth Herald, ran a Sunday editorial titled “If you want gun control, vote Ayotte out of office.”

The pressure on Ayotte shows no signs of abating. On Wednesday, Americans for Responsible Solutions — the gun reform group led by former congresswoman and shooting victim Gabrielle Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly — began running radio ads in the Granite State attacking Ayotte. The script of the ad is below, via Talking Points Memo:


Woman 1: Remember that ad Kelly Ayotte ran saying she’s one of us?
Woman 2: Oh, where she’s out for a run?
Woman 1: (SFX: Newspaper rustling) Yeah. Well, it sure didn’t take long for her to “go Washington.” Says here Ayotte voted against improving background checks to keep guns out of the hands of criminals.
Woman 2: Are you serious? 89 percent of the people in New Hampshire support universal background checks. She just ignored us?
Woman 1: Sure did. This was common-sense legislation written by a Republican and a Democrat. Supported by law enforcement. And it protected Second Amendment rights. But Ayotte voted against it anyway.
Woman 2: And ignored the will of the people.
Woman 1: Well, I’m calling Senator Ayotte and telling her to listen to the people for a change. You should too. The number is 202-224-3324.
Woman 2: Paid for by Americans for Responsible Solutions.

The good news for Ayotte is that she has over three years until New Hampshire voters will get the opportunity to punish her for her background check vote. The bad news for every politician who voted to kill the compromise bill is that the backlash against their actions appears to be very real.

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr.com

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