When Gov. Craig Benson appointed Kelly Ayotte as New Hampshire's attorney general one decade ago, she won the post because she was a hardworking aide in the governor's office and an accomplished prosecutor -- but also, in part, because she was a woman.

Then-Attorney General Peter Heed had been sent in an official capacity to a state conference on sexual harassment, where, after-hours, he removed his shirt and danced provocatively with a woman. When the story broke, Heed was forced to resign.

Ayotte stepped in.

Since then, Ayotte has distinguished herself as the youngest woman in the Senate, where she has served since 2011, and has cut a unique profile as a pro-life, conservative Republican from the Northeast.

For a party looking to bolster its standing among female voters, many of whom regard Republicans’ policy priorities as dismissive of women, Ayotte has been a welcome antidote. She appeared 10 times in 2013 on Sunday morning news programs, vaunted platforms for politicians — more than any other woman lawmaker of either party.

As Ayotte has gained exposure, she has not shrugged off her conservative brand that, in 2010, won her an endorsement in her primary race from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

“My sense of it is that the mainstream media can be particularly tough on conservative women,” Ayotte told the Washington Examiner. “We don't always fit their mold of what they expect people to think.”

Countering harsh judgment in the public eye has been a challenge for Ayotte, she said, but “one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced is really nothing to do with media or anything else.”

“I’m the mother of two young children, and so being a mother and balancing that with being a U.S. senator, that’s my greatest challenge,” Ayotte said. “I struggle with this issue, I think, like any working parent.”