Sen. Shaheen’s GOP Challenger Is ‘Serious’ About New Hampshire Run

Rep. Jeb Bradley, R-N.H., left, and former U.S. Senator from New Hampshire Bob Smith, share a laugh at a gathering in Smith's honor at the Center of New Hampshire, Saturday, May 17, 2003, in Manchester N.H.
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Here are former Sen. Bob Smith’s (R-NH) plans to get back into the Senate: move to New Hampshire, hire a campaign team and possibly face off against Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) in the Republican primary. And this time, he says he’s serious.

It’s a lofty plan and one that he’s only started to follow since he announced his bid for Sen. Jeanne Shaheen’s (D) Senate seat on Friday. The 72-year-old former New Hampshire senator — who also ran for Senate in Florida in 2010 — seems like a long shot right now, especially in a year when Republicans seem busier fending off primary challenges than picking off potentially easy Democratic seats.

A September Public Policy Polling survey found Shaheen beating Smith in a head-to-head matchup, 51 percent to 35 percent (nevertheless Shaheen’s reelection campaign sent out a fundraising email Monday afternoon citing the “radical” Smith’s candidacy).

In the interview with TPM on Monday, Smith sounded many of the notes of a candidate planning to run a classic tea party challenge. He not only said he would like to run against Brown, who has toyed with the idea of challenging Shaheen, but also said he plans to reach out to the outside conservative groups that have helped boost non-establishment Republican primary challengers.

Smith didn’t give many specifics about his candidacy. He said he is running because of issues that conservatives are usually concerned about.

“As a conservative I have a lot of concerns about where we’re going under the current leadership of the president but also more appropriately with some of the Senate leadership and what we’re doing.” Smith said citing “a bunch of things from the nuclear option which is a bit more recent which I think is a mistake. But also all the usual things — Obamacare, Benghazi, the debt. All the things that we conservatives have concerns about.”

He also said he has been in talks with major names in the campaign world to help run and work on his campaigns but declined to give names.

Smith suggested he could do what other 2014 Republican candidates have recently done and direct some criticism at Senate Republicans in order to establish his conservative bona fides. But, Smith said, if he does attack other Republicans, it will be on specific issues.

“If Sen. McConnell or senator anybody disagrees with me on an issue I would address that difference,” Smith said. “I mean I’m not afraid to do it. It’s not a personal thing. I’ve always been that way. I’ve criticized the Republican Party, became an Independent for three or four months years ago, because I didn’t agree with some of the stuff that was going on in terms of how we were allowing certain things to go in with Bill Clinton. So I’ve always had that different streak.”

Smith did say that he planned to set up his campaign operation in the next week or so and he hasn’t met with the National Republican Senatorial Committee yet.

NRSC communications director Brad Dayspring told TPM in an email, “We haven’t heard from Bob Smith, last we were aware he was living in Florida.”

All together Smith’s candidacy is very much in its infancy. He actually has to also move back to New Hampshire from Florida where he has been living since 2002 after he was defeated in the Republican Senate primary by John E. Sununu. After that, Smith ran two unsuccessful campaigns for the Senate in Florida. The first time, in 2004, Smith quickly dropped out after failing to raise enough money. The second time, Smith ran for Senate in Florida in 2010 but dropped out of the race in March after polls showed him trailing both Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and Marco Rubio (who would go on to win the seat). Smith played down those previous runs, saying those weren’t nearly as serious.

“It was never serious,” Smith said of his last candidacy in Florida. “I mean I spoke at a few Republican events but that was the year that Marco Rubio was running here. It was not a serious effort.”

And what about now?

“I think people are beginning to think well is this going to be serious but I guarantee you it is going to be serious,” Smith said.

Smith compared his candidacy to Sen. Tom McIntyre’s (D-NH) re-election in 1978 when he lost to Republican Gordon Humphrey in part because of his vote for the Panama Canal Treaty, a wave of conservatism that spread across the country. McIntyre lived in both Florida and New Hampshire.

“I think that this is going to be a very interesting election cycle,” Smith said. “Years ago the Panama Canal vote caused a bunch of Democrats their seats when they voted on the Panama Canal giveaway. One of them was Tom McIntyre of New Hampshire who was defeated by Gord Humphrey who was an unknown conservative airline pilot and he upended him even though McIntyre had a 20 point lead in the polls so this could be one of those kinds of elections.”

But Smith’s candidacy, a long-shot Republican running in New England in a state that usually leans Democratic in presidential elections, could be reflective of his possible competitor for the seat: Scott Brown. Smith said he isn’t shying away from possibly running against Brown for the Republican nomination to unseat Shaheen–in fact he’s welcoming it.

“I would look forward to it, Smith said. “But remember there are other candidates in the race as well and so I don’t have a problem with that. I think Brown’s philosophy is different enough from mine and people will be able to distinguish the two.”

Even so Smith stressed that the possibility of a Brown run wasn’t a factor in his deciding to jump into the race.

“No it wasn’t and I know people have a hard time believing that but here’s the thing,” Smith said. “I can’t control what other people do or don’t do. That’s out of my hands completely. I don’t know Scott personally. I’ve never met him, never talked to him. Have no inside information whatsoever. I have no idea idea what he’s going to do and had no plans to wait for him to make a decision.”

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