Sen. Kelly Ayotte has endured blowback from conservatives disappointed with her decision to back the "Gang of Eight" immigration reform bill.

Earlier this week, my colleague Byron York published a thoughtful column juxtaposing the New Hampshire Republican's position on this politically charged legislation, now being debated on the Senate floor, with the immigration views she expressed in the heat of a 2010 GOP primary that the senator won by a nose. As York noted, Ayotte's position on immigration policy then did not necessarily suggest that she would support the "Gang of Eight" bill -- at least in its current form.

SClBBut Ayotte's decision to endorse the legislation is probably good statewide politics in New Hampshire, a swing state that Republicans have failed to capture at the presidential level since 2000. Additionally, Ayotte has her defenders, including a New Hampshire GOP consultant who advised the senator's 2010 primary opponent -- Ovide Lamontagne -- and worked to defeat Ayotte in that race.

In a post on Facebook, Granite State Republican operative Jim Merrill delivered a strong defense of Ayotte's conservative credentials amid some criticism that she has abandoned her principles for political expediency. Merill advised Mitt Romney during the 2012 GOP presidential primary, and Ayotte was one of the former Massachusetts governor's key backers in that contest.

Here is Merill's Facebook post in full, which includes this line: "Suddenly people are calling her a 'RINO', a sell-out, or a flip-flopper, to which I say - 'are you nuts?'"

"In 2009, I took on Ovide Lamontagne as a client and served as general consultant in his race for U.S. Senate. I've known Ovide for many years - he's a proud conservative and a great friend. I knew Kelly Ayotte was considering a run, and while I have many friends who worked with her, I didn't personally know her and hadn't seen her come out on many political issues. That made working for my friend and tested conservative Ovide that much easier.

"As the race unfolded, it became clear that Ovide and Kelly had a lot in common, with few substantive distinctions between them. We all know the 2010 primary story - hard, but fairly fought, and down to the wire, with Kelly coming out just ahead of Ovide, 38-37%. From the day that Ovide declined a recount, I've supported Kelly Ayotte, first as a candidate and since as our senator. She is an enormous credit to New Hampshire - smart, conservative, independent minded and unafraid to lead on principle, regardless of consequences.

"A few days ago, she joined another great conservative, Marco Rubio, in backing compromise immigration reform. Suddenly people are calling her a 'RINO', a sell-out, or a flip-flopper, to which I say - "are you nuts?" The Kelly Ayotte who stood up for the 2nd Amendment despite enormous political pressure, and is now facing millions in attack ads from Big Gulp Bloomberg for her principle? The Kelly Ayotte who has voted to repeal Obamacare, and the devastating medical device sales tax? The Kelly Ayotte who is fighting to get the truth on Benghazi? The Kelly Ayotte who has fought to keep Gitmo detainees off of American soil? The Kelly Ayotte who led the fight against the misguided internet sales tax? The Kelly Ayotte who has fought for a Balanced Budget Amendment, and against gov't waste like the "Missile to Nowhere"? The pro-life Kelly Ayotte who stood with - and spoke for - Ovide a few weeks ago in DC as he became general counsel of Americans United for Life? Ridiculous.

"Like minds can and will disagree on how to achieve immigration reform, but not on Kelly Ayotte as a conservative leader. She is one, and like Ovide would say, she's quickly earning the scars to prove it. Would you have preferred Sen. Paul Hodes in 2010? How about Sen. Maggie Hassan in 2016? I didn't think so. Kelly Ayotte has more than earned our trust."