Hassan declares victory in US Senate race; Ayotte concedes

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) – Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan declared victory Wednesday over Republican incumbent Kelly Ayotte in their hard-fought U.S. Senate race, which had received top billing as a contest that could help determine control of the Senate but diminished in significance nationally once the GOP’s majority was ensured.

The secretary of state’s office showed Hassan with a lead of 1,023 votes out of 738,420, putting the race in recount territory. Ayotte hasn’t conceded, but Hassan said she was confident she had won.

“I am proud to stand here as the next United States senator from New Hampshire,” she said, backed by cheering supporters outside the Statehouse.

Senator Ayotte conceded the race Wednesday afternoon, saying “I just spoke with Governor Hassan to congratulate her on her election to serve in the U.S. Senate. I wish Governor Hassan, her husband Tom, and their children Ben and Meg the very best.

The tight race between Hassan and Ayotte was among half a dozen contests around the country that would determine which party controls the Senate next year. But by late Tuesday night it was clear Republicans would officially retain control regardless of New Hampshire’s outcome based on the results in other states.

“This has been a closely contested race from the beginning and we look forward to results being announced by the Secretary of State, and ensuring that every vote is counted in this race that has received an historic level of interest,” said Ayotte spokeswoman Liz Johnson.

New Hampshire’s choice in the presidential race between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton also remained unsettled Wednesday. Further down the ballot, Republican Chris Sununu defeated Democrat Colin Van Ostern in the governor’s race, Democrat Carol Shea-Porter ousted Republican U.S. Rep. Frank Guinta in the 1st Congressional District, and Democratic U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster defeated Republican Jim Lawrence in the 2nd Congressional District.

Given the stakes, the Senate race attracted attention from the start and the interest only increased as Ayotte’s complicated relationship with Trump evolved. First, she said she supported Trump but wasn’t endorsing him. In early October, she said she “absolutely” would tell a child to aspire to be like him but quickly took back those remarks. A few days later, she rescinded her support altogether based on newly released 2005 recordings in which Trump bragged about using his fame to force himself on women. She said she’d write in vice presidential nominee Mike Pence instead.

In Hopkinton, voter Margaret Blank called Ayotte’s support for Trump “a huge bobble.”

“I think principled Republicans should’ve taken a strong stand against Trump. He’s not a Republican, and he’s not fit to hold office,” said Blank, 47, an environmental engineer. “I went straight-ticket Democrat this year, which I don’t usually do. I never go straight ticket on anything, but the Republican pool is polluted by Donald Trump.”

Ayotte, a former attorney general, argued that, unlike Hassan, she has been willing to stand up to her party’s leadership. She cast herself as an independent, bipartisan senator while portraying Hassan as a rubber stamp for Democrats and a hypocrite for taking credit for a state budget she initially vetoed as governor.

But Hassan, a two-term governor, brought up Trump frequently, arguing that Ayotte showed bad judgment in supporting him for as long as she did and put political calculations ahead of principle when she changed her position. On Wednesday, she said she will work with Trump when doing so serves New Hampshire’s interests and will stand up to him when it doesn’t.

“We know that this election exposed very serious divisions in our country, and it’s up to all of us – elected leaders and citizens – now to come together and focus on our common challenges and our common opportunities,” she said. “Our work going forward is going to be to remember what unites us as Americans and how we can make progress together.”

Either Sununu, 42, or Van Ostern, 37, would’ve been the nation’s youngest governor – South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley is 44. Both also serve on Hassan’s Executive Council, a five-member body that approves state contracts and nominations.

During the campaign, they argued the other lacks the experience and leadership skills to be governor. Sununu – whose father served as governor in the 1980s – has worked as an engineer and ski resort manager. Van Ostern has worked in political campaigns and marketing, most recently for Southern New Hampshire University’s College for America.

The 1st Congressional District featured two familiar faces: Guinta and Shea-Porter faced each other for a fourth time. She held the seat for two terms until Guinta defeated her in 2010. She beat him in 2012; he won in 2014. Independent Shawn O’Connor also was on the ballot.

Secretary of State Bill Gardner, who last week predicted a record turnout of 738,000 voters, said Tuesday night that many towns were seeing higher numbers than in 2008 and 2012 and that he believes his prediction would hold.

(Copyright (c) 2016 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

(Copyright (c) 2018 Sunbeam Television. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)