It took more than 17 hours to determine, but former New Hampshire attorney general Kelly Ayotte has beaten back a late run by Ovide Lamontagne and captured the Republican nomination for Senate in the state.
But was it ever close. The final count put Ayotte fewer than 2,000 votes up on Lamontagne. It's a rare victory for the GOP establishment on a night when it suffered embarrassing losses in Delaware and New York, and makes it more likely that a Republican will hold on to the seat Sen. Judd Gregg will vacate with his retirement in January.
Lamontagne, a more conservative candidate, made a run late in the race, with help from S.C. Sen. Jim DeMint, who endorsed him. Ayotte snagged the backing of Sarah Palin, setting up an internecine battle in conservative ranks. And in early returns Tuesday night, he jumped out to a sizable lead.
But as the night drew on, Ayotte closed the gap. The vote counting was painfully slow, so results were delayed well beyond other races across the country, much to the annoyance of voters and the media. But N.H. Secretary of State David Scanlan told the Union Leader that the count was proceeding according to schedule.
When the dust cleared, Ayotte finished ahead, with 53,044 votes to Lamontagne's 51,377; three other candidates garnered a little less than a quarter of the total votes. Results were announced shortly after 1 p.m. Wednesday. Ayotte will go on to face Democrat Paul Hodes in the November general election.