WASHINGTON — A pair of Pentagon and defense-sector Senate allies are in hot water back home after voting against their constituents’ wishes on a gun measure, a development that could alter two key panels.
Republican Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska have seen their approval ratings plummet after voting against a measure to toughen background checks for would-be gun owners, according to recent polls.
Ayotte is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, a leading voice in the upper chamber for increasing annual Pentagon budgets and a hawkish interventionist on American foreign policy.
A member of the powerful Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee, Murkowski has proved a reliable vote for the Pentagon and defense business sector.
Both senators issued statements before the high-profile gun vote saying they would oppose the Senate measures because they believed the bills placed too many new burdens on citizens’ Second Amendment rights.
Polls conducted in recent days by Public Policy Polling, a private non-partisan polling firm, show voters in both states have soured on the pro-defense duo. And the dual dip, if it holds, could alter the Senate’s defense panels. With the chamber’s new Republican members more focused on shrinking government and dealing with fiscal problems, it’s unclear whether senators with the same pro-defense fervor would replace them should they lose re-election bids.
Ayotte, a member of the Senate’s “Three Amigos” who helped fight the sequestration cuts to the Pentagon’s planned budget, has seen her approval rating fall to 44 percent, with 46 percent disapproving. A PPP poll conducted in October showed 48 percent of New Hampshire voters approved of Ayotte, with 35 percent voicing disapproval.
That calculates to a net 15 point decline for the SASC member, who has gained respect on Capitol Hill for her lawyerly questioning of senior Pentagon officials and nominees.
“Gun show background checks are pretty universally popular in New Hampshire ... and Kelly Ayotte is facing some serious backlash from voters in the state for voting against them,” PPP said in a recent summary of the poll. “This issue is really giving her some trouble.”
Half of those polled, the organization wrote, “say Ayotte’s ‘no’ vote will make them less likely to support her in a future election, compared to just 23 percent who consider it to be a positive.”
The “Amigo” easily won her Senate seat in 2010, with a 23-point margin. Almost three years later, she’s in big trouble just as her stature in Washington is on the upswing.
“In a very early hypothetical match up between her and new Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, she trails by a 46-44 margin,” PPP found.
Expect her fellow “Amigos,” Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz. and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., to lend a hand if those head-to-head poll numbers remain the same. McCain, during his presidential campaigns, was a favorite among New Hampshire voters.
Murkowski has seen an even bigger drop in her approval numbers in Alaska. The PPP poll registered a net 16-point drop.
In February, 54 percent of Alaskans polled approved of the SAC-D member, with 33 percent expressing disapproval. In the most recent poll after her ‘no’ vote on the background check measure, those same figures had dropped to 46 percent and 41 percent.
“Murkowski has lost most of her appeal to Democrats in the wake of her vote,” the polling firm said. “And the vote hasn’t increased her credibility with Republicans either.”
Nearly 40 percent of those Alaskan voters polled indicated the pro-military senator’s background check vote would make them less likely to support her again on Election Day.