CONCORD, N.H. (Legal Newsline) - Republican Kelly Ayotte defeated her Democratic opponent, Paul Hodes, on Tuesday to claim New Hampshire's U.S. Senate seat.

The former New Hampshire attorney general -- the state's first female in the post -- was the projected winner over the two-term Democratic U.S. Rep. Hodes, according to The Associated Press.

Ayotte painted herself as an outsider who will cut government spending in Tuesday's election against Hodes, who vacated his 2nd District seat to run for the Senate.

Ayotte, who consistently held the lead over Hodes in the polls since February, was most notably endorsed by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

Palin endorsed Ayotte in a primary she narrowly won over a conservative supported by local Tea Party activists.

The former candidate for Vice President called Ayotte the state's "mama grizzly."

Palin wrote in a July Facebook post, "It's my honor to endorse a Granite State 'mama grizzly' who has broken barriers, fought off and locked up criminals, and battled all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to protect the rights of New Hampshire parents -- and won!

"New Hampshire is lucky to have Kelly Ayotte as a candidate for the U.S. Senate this year," Palin wrote at the time.

Retiring GOP Sen. Judd Gregg, who vacated the state's U.S. Senate seat, also endorsed Ayotte as his successor.

Ayotte was the attorney general when complaints surfaced about a now-defunct mortgage firm involved in a Ponzi scheme, but the complaints were sent to the state banking department, which has jurisdiction over such matters.

During the campaign, Hodes ran ads hammering Ayotte for not pursuing the case.

Democrats had also criticized Ayotte's decision to leave the Attorney General's Office, saying she turned her back on her responsibilities. Read more here.

Ayotte, a graduate of Pennsylvania State University and Villanova University School of Law, currently lives with her husband Joe, 5-year-old daughter Katherine and 2-year-old son Jacob, in Nashua.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by e-mail at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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