A gaggle of protesters were stationed across the street from Tuscan Kitchen this morning to greet Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) as they arrived at a private GOP fundraiser.
Both politicians, who have been mentioned as candidates for either president or vice president, came in through the back to avoid the picketers, many of whom were from Organizing for Action – New Hampshire.
Both Ayotte and Portman voted against the Manchin-Toomey amendment to expand background checks for gun purchases.
"That was a horrific day in Newtown – all of us met with the families as I have," said Portman of the Sandy Hook shooting in an interview after the fundraiser. "Our hearts go out to them. We want to do things that are actually going to help."
Portman said that he doesn't believe that the Manchin-Toomey legislation would have helped, and that families he spoke with agreed that it wouldn't have helped.
"We need to look at really the underlying problems, and a huge one obviously is the mental health system, and the fact that this young man was able to get through the mental health system and commit these horrible crimes, horrible acts of violence. We've seen it around the country."
He said that both sides of the aisle, including himself and Ayotte, are supporting the improvement of the mental health system to make sure that people don't fall through the cracks and instead get the help that they need.
Portman and Ayotte were fundraising for the New Hampshire GOP on the six-month anniversary of the Connecticut massacre. Portman cited the timing of the fundraiser to the fact that he just happened to be in the state.
Portman was in New Hampshire to attend graduation at Dartmouth College, his alma mater. He also participated on a political panel there.
Those across the street from Friday's event said their presence was a reminder, for the hometown Ayotte especially, that politicians owe it to the children killed to pass safer gun laws.
"That woman should be out here talking about Newtown, talking about those babies, and shes's in (the Tuscan Kitchen) raising money for God knows what," said OFA-NH volunteer Tracy Barbour of Derry. "She should be out here looking at our signs. It's disgusting. She has completed ignored her constitutents and voted for the GOP because she's the GOP's darling right now."
"This first vote on background checks was the most important one, and she failed us on that," said Salem activist Jane Lang, who held a neon yellow sign reading "6 months, no action, shame on you Sen. Ayotte and Sen. Portman."
Those attending the fundraiser included fire and police officials from southern New Hampshire and politicians such as local state representatives and former GOP gubernatorial candidates Kevin Smith.
Smith said that he doesn't think there was any significance in the timing of the event, and that today was simply the date that worked on Portman's schedule.
Also attending the fundraiser with his son was Windham businessman Al Letizio.
"Evils exist, problems exist, the answer is not taking citizens rights away from people," said Letizio.
Press was barred from accessing the private function, and all non-press not attending the event were ordered to keep off the property.
Ayotte was not available for comment after the event, but the NHGOP issued a statement on the protesters:
Liberal New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's out of state gun control group has spent millions on false attacks against Senator Ayotte. New Hampshire knows that Kelly has worked to keep us safe by voting to fix the current broken background check system, enhance prosecutions, and strengthen the mental health system.
Mayor Bloomberg doesn't understand that Granite Staters won't listen to his liberal, out of state special interest group because they are smart enough to see through his shameful smear campaign. Even Bloomberg's fellow New York liberals like Senator Chuck Schumer realize his attacks aren't working and that his dishonest ads and manufactured protests are an 'ineffective' waste of his time and money.