REVERSING COURSE. If it wasn't such a serious issue, it would be pure entertainment.
Here was Kelly Ayotte being criticized by conservatives and praised by liberals and moderates for her sudden support for the "Gang of Eight" immigration reform bill.
Was this a change of heart (some might say flip-flop) for Ayotte, who was a staunch opponent of amnesty and supporter of tough border security as a candidate in 2010?
At an Americans for Prosperity Forum three years ago, Ayotte said, "For the people who are here illegally, I don't support amnesty; it's wrong. It's wrong to the people who are waiting in line here, who have waited for so long. And we need to stop that because I think that's where the administration is heading next."
Ayotte spokesman Jeff Grappone says she is being consistent with her stand as a candidate.
"She believes the status quo is de facto amnesty, which is unacceptable," he said. "Instead of President Obama issuing more executive orders that circumvent the will of Congress and the American people, she supports enacting legislation that will send illegal immigrants to the back of the line and stop the dangerous flow of illegal immigrants into our country through greater border security, more effective enforcement, and a vigorous employment verification program."
Grappons said, "During the campaign she said that she would bring a 'results-oriented' approach to this issue, and that's what she's doing."
Was Ayotte influenced in her decision to back the bill by her "amigos," John McCain and Lindsey Graham, two of the four GOP members of the "Gang of Eight?"
Could it be that she is trying to stake out a moderate position on a key issue after pleasing conservatives and upsetting moderates with her April vote against expanded gun background checks?
Grappone said Ayotte "makes up her own mind based on her examination of each issue, and it's ridiculous for anyone to suggest otherwise."
The contrast in reactions to her immigration announcement was striking.
The web site "Town Call.com" had a detailed piece on how Ayotte during her 2010 campaign repeatedly voiced opposition to amnesty.
National Review Online opined, "Thoughtful is one thing her support for that bill is not. In an op-ed published on her website, Ayotte shows no sign of knowing what the main objections of the bill's critics are, much less of having grappled with them."
The Washington Examiner's Byron York wrote, "All in all, the Kelly Ayotte of 2010 did not seem likely to turn into a supporter of today's 2013 Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act ... If Ayotte recognized any of the problems in the bill that she might have objected to in 2010, she didn't say. Indeed, the striking thing about Ayotte's endorsement was how little it engaged the substance of the Gang of Eight bill."
The New Hampshire Union Leader, which often agrees with Ayotte, disagreed on this one, editorializing, "Her high hopes for the bill are not supported by its text."
On the other hand, the Boston Globe editorial was entitled, "Kelly Ayotte Shows Leadership on Immigration," adding, "after decades of debate, no solution on immigration will ever pass without bold, bipartisan moves like Ayotte's, and others should take notice."
She was also lauded by The Telegraph of Nashua, the Concord Monitor and by former state Democratic chairman George Bruno.
Grappone said Ayotte "is independent-minded and votes based on what she thinks is right for the country, regardless of who she angers on the right or the left."
She was praised by the New England Council big business group and blasted by NH Labor News. The President Barack Obama "Organizing For America" Twitter account cited her announcement.
Four former state Republican chairs, at least two of whom (Steve Duprey and Jayne Millerick) are friends of McCain, praised Ayotte for her immigration stand at a news conference last Thursday.
Not there were former chairs John H. Sununu and Jack Kimball.
Sununu told us he had no comment on the immigration issue. Period.
Tea Party leader Kimball, however, had an email Friday on "the Amnesty Bill.".
"No Republican should be supporting anything in this bill unless it calls for securing our borders as its first priority," he wrote. "Secondly, if passed, this bill will forever change the political dynamic of our Country for within a very short period of time it will virtually guarantee that we will not see a Republican Administration.
"Why? Because the vast majority of those who will become Legalized will vote for the Democratic Party. Further, besides adding anywhere from 11-15 million new voters to the rolls these folks will also be able to add some of their extended family. This will be a disaster for the Republican Party as well as our Country," wrote Kimball.
His email did not mention Ayotte, but urged his fellow "Patriots" to contact their "representatives in Congress and tell them NOT to support the Amnesty Bill as written and to demand that our borders be completely secured before any further discussion is allowed to happen on this topic. If they ignore you then we will resolve that problem at the ballot box."
As for the senator, Kimball told us, "I truly believe she is way too close to John McCain. I'd like to see her stand on her own two feet a lot more."
Ayotte was among the leaders of the state GOP hierarcy who called for Kimball's ouster as party chair back in 2011. So his criticism of Ayotte did not exactly shock her supporters.
"Unfortunately, Jack doesn't seem to understand this bill, which doesn't automatically grant citizenship that would create new voters," Grappone said. "Those seeking a green card would have to wait a minimum of 10 years, and they'd have to go to the back of the line, pass background checks, learn English, pay fines, pay taxes, and hold a steady job. This timeline would be dependent on first meeting border security and E-Verify objectives."
He continued, "With 11 million illegal immigrants living here without any consequences, the situation we have now is de facto amnesty. The bill Sen. Ayotte backs will stop the dangerous flow of illegal immigrants into our country through greater border security, more effective enforcement and a vigorous employment verification program. This legislation will also help grow our economy by modernizing our legal immigration system to allow high-skilled and other needed immigrants to work here legally, addressing a critical need she has heard frequently from New Hampshire's business community."
(Kimball, by the way, is rallying fellow Granite Staters to Wednesday's Tea Party "Audit the IRS" rally in Washington. "Let's let them all know that we will not accept BIG BROTHER any longer," Kimball wrote, urging supporters to carry signs calling for the impeachment of the President.)
A PRO-KELLY NEW AD. Ayotte is praised for "courage and independence" in a new TV ad jointly sponsored by Americans for a Conservative Direction, which is funded by Mark Zuckerberg- and Bill Gates-backed FWD.us, and InSPIRE STEM USA, which is co-chaired by former Sen. John E. Sununu (son of John H., of course), and Maria Cardona, a former senior advisor to Hillary Clinton.
The ad will air for about a week on WMUR and local cable. The buy is about $200,000.
InSPIRE STEM USA and FWD.us are bipartisan political groups advocating for "comprehensive immigration reform," focusing on a need for more highly skilled workers in the high-tech and other modern industries.
FWD.us funds not only Americans for a Conservative Direction, which is focused on "conservative political outreach," but also the Council for American Job Growth, which is focused on "independent and progressive political outreach and activity," according to a spokesman.
Former NHGOP chair Millerick is a consultant for FWD.us in New Hampshire.
LOOKING AHEAD. Ayotte does not stand for reelection until 2016, and there's a good chance she'll be in the mix for vice presidential consideration.
Who knows what the issues will be by then? Guns and immigration will certainly be issues, but will they be top, voting issues?
Next year, though, there's another U.S. Senate race as Jeanne Shaheen defends her seat, and Ayotte has set the stage for questions to whoever runs on the GOP side.
Particularly on immigration, will GOP candidates — state Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley maybe — stand with Ayotte in favor of immigration reform or stand with the conservative base of the party opposed?
For now, Bradley is focused on the State House, where it's crunch time with committees of conference on the budget, state alignment with the Affordable Care Act and voter identification among the myriad of issues on the table.
But congressman Bradley and congressional candidate Bradley was a immigration hawk, saying, for instance, in 2008, "if you reward people who have broken our immigration laws with an incentive, which is amnesty, which would be citizenship or the indefinite right to stay in this country, that's the wrong answer, and we can't go down that road because we will just have more illegal alien problems in the future."
It's unclear if Bradley will run. But whoever does will either be with Ayotte and against much of the conservative base on immigration, or with that faction and against the GOP's only federal and statewide officeholder.
HELLO, MARCO. Steve Duprey joined fellow former state GOP chairs Fergus Cullen, John Stabile, Wayne MacDonald and Wayne Semprini in a recent opinion piece calling for support for the "Gang of Eight" reform bill.
Duprey told us that last Wednesday night, he got a call from one of the "Gang," and it wasn't his friend McCain.
"It was Marco Rubio," said Duprey.
The Florida senator and possible GOP presidential contender "said he had read the opinion piece and just wanted to say 'thanks' for the support for the bill," said Duprey.
Duprey said he told Rubio that the next day, he'd be part of a news conference praising Ayotte's support for the "Gang" bill.
According to Duprey, Rubio did not express frustration with the fact that she didn't withhold her announcement until he worked to strengthen the bill's border security provisions.
And by the way, Duprey said Rubio "we'd be happy to welcome him back to New Hampshire at any time."
ON THE WEB. Republican former state Sen. Jim Rubens last week set up a web site to coincide with his exploration of a possible run for the Senate.
And the state Republican Party is expected to have a new site up this week to replace its current 4-year-old site. Its platform allows local GOP committees to base their sites on the state site.
O'BRIEN'S BOY? The Democrats were having a field day last week with the announcement by conservative state Rep. George Lambert that he is exploring a run for governor.
Lambert, of Litchfield, a self-described social liberal and fiscal conservative, was allied with former New Hampshire House speaker Bill O'Brien on fiscal issues. O'Brien named him to the Legislative Administration Committee and the former Redress of Grievances Committee, which no longer exists.
"In 2012, the voters of New Hampshire rejected this extreme and out-of-touch ideology," wrote NHDP Chair Raymond Buckley in a fund-raising email that tried to link him to O'Brien.
HIT ME, PLEASE. Candidates, political organizations and operatives allied with both parties and all ideologies just love being attacked by their opponents.
And why not? It's a money-maker. Not personal, but for their causes.
Sen. Shaheen turned an "attack ad" by GOP operative Mike Biundo's Citizens for a Strong Economy into a fund-raising email.
State Democratic National Committee member and former state Democratic Chair Kathy Sullivan returned fire on Biuindo in an op-ed in the New Hampshire Union Leader.
Biundo quickly responded with a fund-raising email for Citizens for a Strong New Hampshire, feigning outrage over the Sullivan criticisms.
It's the new normal. And the beat goes on.
AN OVERDRAFT FEE. Democrats last week tried to exploit the state Republican Party's far-less-than-flush federal fund-raising report for April, saying it includes "overdraft fees" and had a low balance.
Turns out there was a single bank overdraft fee of $39. But the report listed only six donors and reported only $19,000 on hand for that month.
But, in fairness, this was before the party's big fund-raiser on May 20 that featured Rand Paul and Reince Priebus. So we'll see soon what May brought in.
What were the comparable Democratic numbers? We'll have to wait a while.
The NHDP, after years of being a monthly filer with the Federal Election Commission, notified the FEC in February that it had become a "semi-annual" filer, meaning that it won't have to disclose its finances for the first half of this year until July 31.
CUZZI LANDS A BIG ONE. David Cuzzi, a former top legislative staffer for former Sen. John E. Sununu, appeared last Thursday at the pro-Ayotte news conference expressing the need to attract and keep highly skilled immigrants.
Cuzzi's Prospect Hill Strategies, launched last year, is raising its profile and resume as a player among the state's public affairs and lobbying firms. The firm announced last week it has landed a top state client, BAE Systems.
Cuzzi held senior government relations and business development positions with the defense giant before starting his own firm.
Prospect Hill Strategies will handle all New Hampshire state and local government relations consulting and lobbying for BAE. The state's largest manufacturer, BAE employs about 4,500 people in Nashua, Hudson and Merrimack.
BAE Systems joins another big New Hampshire company, Velcro USA, and a handful of smaller firms, as Prospect Hill clients.
HONORING BASS. Next Friday, June 21, the Committee to Elect (state) House Republicans will hold a fund-raiser to salute former U.S. Rep. Charlie Bass and his family at the Grappone Center in Concord. Ticket prices range from $250 for two to $2,000 for a block of 10.
John DiStaso is senior political reporter of the New Hampshire Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @jdistaso.