Salem, N.H. — A Granite State GOP fundraiser hosted by U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte and featuring her fellow Republican Senator Rob Portman was picketed by gun control advocates. Over 40 people showed up at the Tuscan Kitchen to pronounce their dissatisfaction with Ayotte’s vote against the Toomey-Manchin bill that would have expanded background checks for gun buyers.
Portman, a potential candidate for the 2016 Republican Presidential nomination, also voted against the bill and was targeted by several signs brandished by the protesters.
A Private Affair
Kelly Ayotte and Rob Portman were the main attractions a $250 per plate fundraiser billed by the New Hampshire State Republican Party as a “Business Luncheon”. Portman, who was in New Hampshire to attend the reunion of the Dartmouth Class of 1978, had been asked by Ayotte if he would headline a fundraiser for the Granite State GOP.
Ironically, that same night, Ayotte’s colleague in the Senate, senior Senator Jeanne Shaheen, signaled out Portman in her remarks at the Manchester City Democratic Commitee Flag Day Dinner. Shaheen, who has sponsored climate control legislation with Portman, cited their partnership as an example of bipartisanship that she believed was sorely lacking in the Senate.
The fundraiser was held at noon and attracted such Republican warhorses as State Representative Bill O’Brien, the former Speaker of the House and a Tea Party stalwart, and Kevin Smith, a gubernatorial candidate.
The luncheon-cum-fundraiser was deemed by the New Hampshire Republican Party to be a “private affair”, and security was strict. The press was not allowed into the event, and two security personnel tried to keep me off of the sidewalk immediately in front of the restaurant door. They relented when I showed them my press pass.
The press effectively had been banned from the event, although WMUR-TV (Manchester) political correspondent Josh McElveen and his camera man were allowed inside to shoot some footage of the two senators.
Standing outside the restaurant doors, Kevin Smith, who lost the 2010 GOP gubernatorial nomination to Ovide Lamontagne, told McElveen the anti-Ayotte protests were financed by out-of-state interests.
The protesters were stationed across the street, on the sidewalk in front of a municipal parking lot. None attempted to cross the street or cause a disturbance other than shouting their slogans.
One of the luncheon attendees, whose T-shit proclaimed him a gun owner, claimed that if we members of the press checked the parking lot, we’d see that the protesters cars revealed them to be from Massachusetts.
Salem is on the border of Massachusetts and bills itself as “The Gateway to New Hampshire.” Interstate-93 and a minor state highway that serves as a major access route top neighboring Methuen, Mass. were right nearby.
One of the couples I interviewed after the luncheon turned out to be a Massachusetts couple who were coming to the restaurant for lunch, not to the $250-per-plate “Business Luncheon.”
All of the picketers I talked to said they were from New Hampshire, an observation confirmed by another journalist covering the event.
Ayotte apparently had been brought in to the restaurant via stealth at least a half-hour before the luncheon’s scheduled start to avoid the protesters. She also seemed to have sneaked out the back after the event’s conclusion while Portman made his exit via a side door, providing a distraction.
Outside the restaurant, Portman graciously consented to interviews, addressing both gun control and any potential plans for 2016. He was for expanded background checks, he said, but felt the Manchin-Toomey bill was not the proper vehicle for achieving it, as the mental health background of gun purchasers was of paramount importance and the bill didn’t address that. The Senator also claimed that “Newtown families”, referencing the families of victims of the Sandy Hook massacre, agreed with him about the bill’s short-comings.
Smiling, Portman downplayed talk about a potential run for 2016, saying he was focused on the elections of 2014.
When Portman left the event, the protesters had long since dispersed, although two members of the press, including this reporter, were still on the grounds. Inquiries to people leaving the event indicated that Ayotte already had left.
Sandy Hook Anniversary
Ayotte was the sole senator from the Northeast who failed to support the Manchin-Toomey bill. The move in Congress towards tightening gun buyer background checks was spurred by the Sandy Hook massacre that took place in nearby Connecticut.
Ayotte’s GOP fundraiser was held on the six-month anniversary of the Sandy Hook shootings, which some of the protesters found to be insensitive.