Kelly Ayotte's seen her appeal to moderate voters crumble in the wake of her endorsement by Sarah Palin and her lead over Paul Hodes has shrunk to its lowest level of any public polling in 2010- she has a 45-42 advantage over him, down from 47-40 in an April PPP poll.
There's not much doubt that the shift in the race is all about Ayotte. Hodes' favorability numbers have seen little change over the last three months. Where 32% of voters saw him positively and 39% negatively in April, now 35% have a favorable opinion of him to 40% with an unfavorable one. But Ayotte's seen a dramatic decline. Her favorability spread of 34/24 in April was the best we've measured for any Republican Senate candidate so far this year but her negatives have risen 15 points since that time while her positives have increased only 2 and she now stands at 36/39.
Most of the movement both in feelings about Ayotte and in the horse race has come with moderate voters. Moderates make up the largest bloc of the New Hampshire electorate at 47%, and Hodes' lead with them has expanded from just 8 points at 47-39 in April to now 21 points at 51-30. Ayotte's favorability with them has gone from +5 at 32/27 to -19 at 27/46.
The Palin endorsement may well be playing a role in this. 51% of voters in the state say they're less likely to back a Palin endorsed candidate to only 26% who say that support would make them more inclined to vote for someone. Among moderates that widens to 65% who say a Palin endorsement would turn them off to 14% who it would make more supportive.
What's most striking about the change in the Ayotte/Hodes numbers is that Hodes' standing has not improved against any of the other Republicans running. Bill Binnie is now actually the strongest Republican for the general election, leading Hodes 46-41. That's identical to the margin he led by on the previous poll. Jim Bender is now doing slightly better against Hodes, trailing just 43-42 after being down 43-40 in April. And Ovide Lamontagne's 43-38 deficit against Hodes is exactly the same as we found before.
Numbers we'll release tomorrow on the Republican primary show that the Palin endorsement has certainly helped Ayotte on that front. But although Ayotte certainly still has to be viewed as the favorite for the general election, this race is starting to look a little more interesting than it did a month ago.
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