“I want to say I’m more troubled today,” said Ayotte, after the three met with Rice. Ayotte sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee alongside McCain and Graham, and has increasingly used a growing partnership with the two senior members to become one of the GOP’s most visible figures on national security issues.
This week, Ayotte was everywhere expressing concern at the possibility that Rice could be nominated to succeed Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state. Those concerns were not being taken lightly as Ayotte has emerged as a newly influential voice in a party that does not have many like hers and desperately needs them.
“She has the potential to be an important voice in the Republican Party,” said Tom Rath, a top adviser to Mitt Romney who has deep roots in New Hampshire and has known Ayotte her entire professional life.
One sign of Ayotte’s new stature is that when the embattled Rice decided to try to mend fences with critical lawmakers, Ayotte was included in the first and most important meeting.
At 44, Ayotte is a fresh face in a party that has lagged behind in advancing women into its most powerful positions and in making a convincing case to many female voters. Ayotte (pronounced
infuses new blood into the GOP national security brain trust in the Senate led by Graham and McCain.
It is an unusual role for a first-term senator, particularly one who arrived in Washington without a national profile. But Ayotte has been tapped repeatedly by the GOP to carry the party’s message.
She has twice delivered the official response to President Obama’s weekly address and served as a tireless surrogate for Romney during his presidential campaign.
Ayotte’s name is regularly included on long lists of Republicans who might run for president in 2016. She laughed off that speculation. “I don’t know where they get that,” she said.
Ayotte and her husband, a pilot with the New Hampshire National Guard, have two children, ages 8 and 5. The senator said many people might see themselves in her everyday effort to balance family and work.
“This is what many Americans are dealing with,” she said.
Ayotte’s partnership with McCain and Graham on Benghazi began shortly after the attack, which U.S. officials believe involved a small number of militants with ties to the al-Qaeda affiliate in North Africa. Ambassador J. Christopher Stephens and three others died in the attack.