Searching for Benghazi Answers, Ayotte Rises to Starring GOP Role

Finishing just her second year in the Senate, New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte has quickly ascended to the top tier of Republican national security advocates and GOP message-mongers.

Ubiquitous as a surrogate for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney for much of the past year, Ayotte has now become a steely-eyed adversary of President Barack Obama and his United Nations envoy Susan Rice for their explanation of the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya. And because of her unique identity in the Senate as a Northeastern conservative Republican woman, Ayotte's profile is only likely to continue to grow.

The opposition from Ayotte and other Republican senators to the idea of Rice becoming secretary of state may have taken its toll: on Thursday Rice announced she'd asked Obama to withdraw her name from consideration for that post.

At a talk at the conservative think tank the American Enterprise Institute Wednesday, she continued to press her questioning of the failure to prevent the attack or adequately defend the consulate. 

"People have questioned (me): Why are you so interested in this issue? I'm very interested because frankly it's been shocking to me how much you have to drag the information out of the administration," she said.

"We have to take the lessons from this and make sure it doesn't happen again," she added.

She also said that part of her interest in the Benghazi attack is rooted in her experience as a murder prosecutor when she served as deputy attorney general and then as attorney general in New Hampshire.

"I've been frankly shocked at how long it took the FBI to get in there," she said. "It would be shocking to me in the average murder case that the media would be able to retrieve some of the evidence that they recovered" at the Benghazi site.

She also warned that further reductions in defense outlays would be dangerous, telling the AEI audience that no one could argue that "we're in such a secure place in this country or without threats from around the world that we should be taking a significant peace dividend."

She cautioned Republicans about "a strain in our party that's much more libertarian, that is more isolationist" and that "if Ronald Reagan were here looking at that, he would be troubled by it."

Ayotte has repeatedly made the case that Social Security, Medicare and other entitlement spending -- not defense spending -- is driving the deficit and debt problems.

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