The early bird gets the vote (maybe)

Empty seats, waiting to be filled.
Empty seats, waiting to be filled.

Filing period for state office in New Hampshire runs from June 4-13. It’s never too early to line up support, though, at least according to a phone call I got this morning from a friend who’s a pro-life activist. She’s being approached by people running for higher office who are reminding her “I voted for your bills.” Not coincidentally, these early birds are the ones most likely to face a primary from other prolifers.

Line up support now, have those supporters on hand as a photo-op show of force on filing day, and thereby discourage anyone else from filing for the seat. Perfectly fair and legal.

But why the rush? Why commit to a candidate now, only to find out later that someone else with a better pro-life record (not necessarily political) wants to run for the same seat? I don’t think primaries are evil, although I do think that primary opponents who are on the same page on big issues ought to sit down together and agree to combine forces.

I’m in no hurry to endorse. I’ll wait until the filing period’s over, anyway. And I’m going to look out for people who vote pro-life but haven’t worked hard to promote pro-life bills. Hooray for them, but given the choice, I’ll take a pro-life leader over a pro-life follower any day.

Bob Smith is ready to race: an exclusive interview

Third in a series of interviews with New Hampshire candidates for U.S. Senate.

Hon. Bob Smith, Member of Congress from NH 1985-1990, U.S. Senate 1990-2002
Hon. Bob Smith, Member of Congress from NH 1985-1990, U.S. Senate 1990-2002

When Bob Smith says “we can rise to the challenges,” he’s starting with a big one: earning back the U.S. Senate seat he held from 1990 to 2002.

He promptly agreed to meet with me when I asked him for an interview. We met at the home of a neighbor of mine who has been a longtime Smith supporter. Relaxed and casually dressed, he still retains the confident bearing of the man who won five elections to federal office from New Hampshire. Smith represented New Hampshire’s First Congressional District for six years before being elected to the Senate for two terms.

While in Washington, Smith was renowned for his conservative views and his pro-life leadership. He served up no surprises when I asked him, as I’ve asked other candidates, where they are on the life issues.

As we spoke, he summed up his current candidacy in upbeat terms.

“What direction is America going? We can all hearken back to Reagan, a very positive man. He said ‘We’re Americans. We can do better. We can rise to the challenge.’ And that will be my theme: rise to the challenge. The health care law is a challenge. The invasion of our privacy by the NSA is a challenge. The debt is a challenge. They are challenges we can meet. Our founders met challenges; why can’t we? [Can’t we do that] in their memory and in their honor and for posterity? That’s the theme. I think it’s basic. Winning means getting people with the right principles to turn this around.”

On being pro-life: “I’ve never walked away from it before and I don’t intend to do so now.”

Smith was the original sponsor of federal legislation to ban the partial-birth abortion method, putting himself in the vanguard of social change. The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately upheld partial-birth bans. Now, even New Hampshire has such legislation on the books, over a John Lynch veto, because the savagery of that particular abortion method is so far out of the mainstream.

“You know my position, because I had 18 years of a 100% pro-life voting record. Unfortunately, this issue can be divisive. But you have to stand firm on it, and I intend to. Some candidates can say ‘I will.’ I can say ‘I did AND I will.'”

He noted that one of his announced opponents in the primary has the same pro-life views. What’s the difference? “Twelve years of Senate seniority. The difference is the track record – the record of having been in office, making the votes, winning and losing, taking the floor and fighting the likes of [Sen. Barbara] Boxer and [Sen. Ted] Kennedy.”

On running in the GOP primary

Primaries are nothing new to Smith. In 2002, he lost his Senate seat when John E. Sununu prevailed in the Republican primary. Sununu went on to defeat Jeanne Shaheen before Shaheen returned the favor in 2008.

Bob Smith knows Karen Testerman and Jim Rubens, who have already announced their candidacies for Shaheen’s seat. “I like them both. I don’t believe in trying to talk somebody into or out of a race. I’m a believer in the voters making that choice. I’m not afraid of primaries. I’m not going to make an issue out of personalities. I think you have to put your positions out there, and let people make the choice.” He acknowledges that Scott Brown is “a wild card.”

While keeping a home in New Hampshire, Smith acquired a residence in Florida after leaving the Senate. He ran briefly for Senate in Florida in 2004 and 2010, leaving the contest early in each campaign. The excitement I’ve seen among some New Hampshire Republicans over a potential Scott Brown candidacy tells me that out-of-state connections aren’t necessarily a stopper for any candidate, including Smith. I think the former senator will probably get more flak from legacy Republicans for the frustration he expressed against the GOP during his second Senate term. (Smith says his Republican registration never lapsed, despite his brief declaration of independent status.) So how does he get along with the GOP, whose nomination he seeks?

“I’m reaching out to all of them,” Smith says, referring to NHGOP leaders. “I want to let them know that in spite of the past, I’ve done a lot of good things for the GOP in terms of fundraising events for candidates. I have a 98.9% voting record with the GOP platform. If I’m the nominee, I expect it’s fair that I have the support of the party. And I’m going to work very hard to become the nominee.

“Now, look – I’ve been in politics before, and I know there’s baggage out there. I’ve made my share of mistakes. I’ve tried to admit that. And where there weren’t mistakes, I defend myself and just move on. I’m more than happy to answer any of the questions that anybody has.

“I don’t hold personal grudges against people. I respect peoples’ positions. That’s OK, and we just move on.”

How about the fact that 40% of the New Hampshire electorate now declines to affiliate with either major party? Is he comfortable reaching out to independents? “Absolutely. No political party can be successful without help from the independents.”

On building a new campaign

Smith is doing what he did for his first congressional race in 1982: building from scratch. Recalling that campaign, he notes “My first coffee was three people in Kingston, New Hampshire. No one else showed up. I started with 3×5 cards and telephones. That’s it.” While he fell short in that first campaign, losing to Democrat Norm D’Amours, the work paid off in 1984 with the first of his five federal campaign victories.

He launched his current campaign eleven days ago. Gone are the 3×5 cards, replaced by more modern technology. There’s Facebook, of course. His campaign web site has pages for issues and for donations, with the full site due to launch soon (www.bobsmithforussenate.com). He’s still building his contact list one name at a time, taking nothing for granted. His zest for campaign work is evident.

As a former Senator, Smith understands the need for serious fundraising. “It does take money. You’ve got to have an office. You’ve got to have computers. We’re going to be as frugal as anybody. If we do this right, we should be able to raise enough from our grassroots people. If people really want to change this country, this is the way we’re going to have to do it.

“We’re a grassroots campaign. That’s how I’ve always done it. I’ve won with a lot of small donors. Some big contributions, of course. But mostly small donors. I’ve never won with big money.”

On Senator Jeanne Shaheen and the President’s health care law

In our lengthy conversation, Smith didn’t have an unkind word for anyone – not even the woman whose seat he’s trying to take. “I respect Jeanne Shaheen. She’s a public servant. She has her ideas, and I respect her for having them, but her ideas are wrong.”

He discussed Shaheen’s role in passage of the Affordable Care Act (and not once did Smith use the word “Obamacare” during our conversation). “Not too long ago, people were ready to write this race off. Now I think they realize that with the health care issue especially, it’s going to be tough for the Democrats to defend.”

Does Shaheen’s recent pitch for tweaks in the health care law address the concerns of Granite Staters? “I don’t think so. They all know that if we had read the bill in the first place, we wouldn’t be in this position. Now we know that you can lose your doctor, you can lose your health insurance. It’s up to the voters to decide, but what we’ve got to do is present that. I think this issue hurts in a big way because it transcends party lines. This is a bad law that was not properly vetted. People have only one venue to take it out on anybody, and that’s at the ballot box. And so we just have to point it out, with respect. I don’t know if she knew [the law] was a lie when it passed, but she took it for fact without reading the bill.”

On the Tea Party and the “war on women”

Smith is aware of how the term “war on women” cowed Republicans in 2012. He also knows how the term “Tea Party” is being used as a derisive term by New Hampshire Democrats. The threat of attacks on those grounds doesn’t scare him.

“Let me tell you what a war on women is. War on women is when you force them out of their health care, and force them to go to a doctor they don’t even know, or you force them to pay four times more for their insurance, or a businesswoman who is trying to employ people and is now being told how much more she has to pay to give them insurance – that’s a war on women.”

While Smith resided in Florida, he was invited to address a number of different organizations “People who knew I was a senator from New Hampshire, no longer in office, asked me to come speak. Some were Tea Party groups. These people are not nuts. They believe in fiscal restraint, in liberty and the Constitution, and they’re having an impact. Because of that, they’re being attacked. And you know, wear that as a badge of honor. I respect the Tea Party, I want their support, and I feel optimistic that they will support me, based on not only my past, but also my future votes in the Senate.”

“I know you didn’t ask about age, but I’m going to talk about it.”

Smith is 72. He brought up his age, unprompted. “I know you didn’t ask about age, but I’m going to talk about it. In the Senate, age isn’t much of a problem, as long as you can function, as long as you’re healthy, your mind is still there and you can do it. I’m not the 40-year-old anymore, but I’m hoping that I can be kind of the transition person to turn this mess around and get us back on track, to stop the horse from galloping, if you will. Meet these challenges, as I talk about.

“If I can turn things around, and get us back to our Constitutional liberties, reduce our debt, get foreign policy straightened out, there will be plenty of people to jump in the saddle after me. And that’s great.”

Read earlier interviews in this series: Karen Testerman and Jim Rubens.

Jim Rubens on social issues and why he should replace Shaheen in U.S. Senate

Jim Rubens, GOP candidate for U.S. Senate
Jim Rubens, GOP candidate for U.S. Senate. Ellen Kolb photo.

Jim Rubens told WMUR’s James Pindell last May that he wanted a “temporary truce” within the GOP on social issues during the 2014 campaigns. He sat down with me last week to elaborate on that, the day after he announced that he’s seeking the GOP nomination to replace Jeanne Shaheen in the U.S. Senate.

Rubens is straightforward about his main issues: jobs, government spending, and what he calls “trust crises” that have undermined public faith in elected leaders. But what about that “truce” remark? What does he have to say to and about New Hampshire’s pro-life voters?

On the life issues, and how he helped shape the NHGOP platform

Rubens spoke carefully about Roe v. Wade, pausing frequently to choose the right word. Whatever his views on the life issues, they’re not canned.

“On the life issue, we have Roe v. Wade. That’s been in constitutional law for a long time. Does it resolve the differences between people who would be called pro-life and pro-choice? It doesn’t. But it’s constitutional law, and because of the stare decisis doctrine, respected by the Roberts court, it’s unlikely that that will be changed. It’s unlikely there will be a constitutional amendment. Even a highly popular constitutional amendment, for example, is very, very difficult to get passed. Because of that, I’m proposing that Republicans focus on issues that we can agree upon, that are vitally necessary, that deal with the country’s serious challenges that we face right now – challenges as big as anything we’ve faced since World War II and the Great Depression.”

Debates on the life issues are not new to him. He served in the state senate while Shaheen was there, and in 2000, he chaired the NHGOP’s platform committee. His enthusiasm for the collaborative process is evident. “We dealt with that issue [in 2000].  We had hearings all over the state, and that platform was a breakthrough. We had actual concrete examples of what Republicans support, not conceptual statements but actual statements such as ‘we oppose partial-birth abortion, we support parental notification.’  I chaired that process, I shepherded that process, reaching agreement.

“Did everyone agree with all those things in that platform? No, but we [had] a good degree of agreement. And that platform has been used in the decade-plus since then by things like the House Republican Alliance to measure whether people are voting consistently with the body of Republican goals. Not just the principles that are loose, but actual specific goals.

“I agree with those elements of the platform, I shepherded it into being, and I believe it’s led to New Hampshire laws becoming more consistent with the views that reflect this difficult tension between the poles of opinion on that issue. And I believe it’s moved New Hampshire toward the position of life, consistent with Roe v. Wade, consistent with the views of the people of this state. So that’s what I mean by truce. I mean by truce that these things [Roe] are laws, they’re not going to change, and if you spend a lot of energy fighting each other on them, we end up being less able to deal with Obamacare, for example.”


On Shaheen: “She is as aggressively pro-choice as you can get.”

So does he think Shaheen will go along with a truce in the general election? His answer was swift, if not direct. “She is as aggressively pro-choice as you can get. Her position is different from mine. People have a wide range of opinions, but there’s a body of Americans that inhabit someplace between Jeanne Shaheen’s position and a place of banning all abortions under every circumstance. Her position is outside of that place that Americans have mostly come to terms where if there’s a situation for example which is beyond viability, unless there’s a threat for the life or health of the mother, Americans oppose that kind of abortion. And I agree with that position, personally.”

On the definition of marriage: in NH, “a settled issue”

Rubens commented briefly on New Hampshire’s law recognizing same-sex marriages.  “Gay marriage is an issue that’s important. There was a vote on that here in the [NH] House [spring 2012], a very Republican House, and the House voted 2-1 to keep gay marriage. It was one of those unusual circumstances where it wasn’t a court decision, it was an actual legislature. I respect the House. It’s the people’s House. And that vote tells me that at least in New Hampshire, that issue is a settled issue. I’m not proposing that Republicans re-litigate the issue.”

His experience leading a coalition against a NH casino, and how expanded gambling is a life issue

I worked with the Granite State Coalition Against Expanded Gambling, founded and led by Rubens, that has prevailed against casino interests for nine years. Most recently, a casino bill was killed in the New Hampshire House this year by a surprising margin, despite support from Governor Hassan.

“People have known me for fighting gambling. Two conclusions I ask voters to draw from that.

“Number one, I did work with a lot of Democrats. We couldn’t have won without Democrats.  [Casino proponents] did not expect that because they had all the forces on their side. This is in the Republican party platform, and sometimes the only way to get a Republican platform item is to have some Democrats voting for it.  [Beating] this industry nine years in a row is not magic. It’s a lot of skill. It’s finding a way to communicate different people. Bridge-building is a process of finding a way to that common ground around a goal. I’m really good at doing that, and I want to bring that talent to the United States Senate. It’s winning – not just fighting, but winning. Moving conservative issues into the win column.

“Second thing about this issue is, it is a life issue also that motivates me. As we know, gambling casinos create addiction. Some folks in our coalition don’t buy into that thing, but it’s a fact. Among those people who become addicted, it’s as addictive as crack cocaine. … It would create an additional 1000 suicides in NH if one casino were put in in Salem. And that’s a life issue. And that motivates me.”

Obamacare: “a train wreck”

I asked Rubens about the HHS mandate within Obamacare and its threat to religious liberty. He preferred to talk about Obamacare in general. In his announcement the day before our interview, he said he favored repealing Obamacare “and replacing it with something better.” When we spoke, he said he is preparing fuller policy proposals, but he was happy to outline his broad vision for health care.

“To get Obamacare stopped, even if we had a more Republican Senate, and a Republican president, is going to require bringing the public along with us. And we know Obamacare is a train wreck. It’s a jobs disaster, it’s a health care disaster, it raises the cost of health care, it does nothing to improve the quality of health care. 20 million people are still uninsured; it doesn’t even fix the problem it purports to fix. Republicans can take huge high ground in persuading Americans about Obamacare. I don’t believe we’ll do it until we come back with something better, and it is definitely feasible to come back with something better.

“Republicans would have a way better chance of terminating it in all of its awfulness if we come up with a [way] to solve the problems, reduce the cost of health care, drive up quality.”  He criticized the current “disease-management-based system.”   “We can look at models around the country that have worked. And Obamacare is not that model. Obamacare reduces choices.”

Libertarians within the GOP: “amazing energy”

I asked him about the role of libertarian voters in the GOP, the so-called “liberty Republicans.”

“We can unite. We have the liberty Republicans, we have traditional social conservatives, we have mainstream people and moderates, we have the quote-unquote Establishment. We agree on a lot, these different parts of the party.  We are the only party that’s going to fix the nation’s problems. Democrats are bankrupting the country; they are the ones that gave us Obamacare. If Republicans, including the libertarian part, the social conservative part, don’t unite, there is no one to fix the country’s problems. Democrats are not going to do this. We have to do the lifting. We have to get the votes.  But we can do this if we unite. And the libertarian part brings some amazing energy into our party right now. They’re reminding us of the importance of the Constitution.  If we come together, we can reduce the size of government. We can reduce bureaucracy. We can make the government fit within the revenues that it has instead of killing the currency as we’re doing.”

“Let me at her.”

Rubens spoke at length about challenging and complex issues he worked on as a state senator, ranging from school choice to electricity competition. Jeanne Shaheen was part of all those debates, first as a state senator and then as governor. He hasn’t forgotten her State House days.

“I can take her on, because I know who she is. I’ve worked with her, I have fought her on issues in the state senate, I have seen her go into back rooms and be instructed by lobbyists how to vote. I watched it happen. It is not representing the people. It is not doing the people’s work in the state of NH. I have fought her on issue after issue after issue. I know where she comes from, I know how to defeat her. Let me at her.”

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