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November 10. 2012 11:49PM

All Republican eyes turn to the state Senate's president

CONCORD - Call him "the Republican survivor." Call him "the last man standing."

In the leadership lineup at the New Hampshire State House, the quiet, affable Peter Bragdon of Milford is both of those.

If you've never heard of Peter Bragdon, you probably will soon.

With Democrats taking over control of the House and retaining the governor's office last Tuesday, Senate President Bragdon is now the leading voice for the Republicans in Concord.

He may well end up as the only man in a majority leadership position in the state, too, as Maggie Hassan takes over as governor and Terie Norelli is favored to become House speaker. But Norelli's status has yet to be officially determined.

Still, Bragdon, 49, may be just what the political doctor ordered for a New Hampshire GOP, which was successfully painted in the campaign as a Tea Party-oriented group with a radical agenda.

The lightening rod for that portrayal, fairly or unfairly, was House Speaker Bill O'Brien.

Bragdon, while occupying what is officially the second-highest office in state government, was rendered virtually invisible in the media by the controversy that seemed to constantly surround O'Brien.

Now, the House has changed to Democratic control and O'Brien won't be the speaker next year. He has chosen to, in his own words, fulfill his "obligations as a back bencher" and won't even seek to become House minority leader.

That leaves Bragdon as the leading spokesman for the GOP in Concord and owner of the second-highest Republican profile in the state, behind only U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte.

And that's fine with those who have worked with Bragdon in Concord since he was first elected to the Senate in 2004, since he became Senate GOP leader in 2008, and since he rose to the Senate presidency when the Republicans won the majority in 2010.

Voters pared down that majority from 19-5 to 13-11 last Tuesday, and one district is subject to a recount. But if Republican Andy Sanborn's 253-vote (out of more than 30,000 cast) victory over Democrat Lee Nyquist is upheld, Bragdon will remain president.

If it is overturned, the Senate presidency will be thrown wide open, with current Senate Democratic Leader Sylvia Larsen very much in the mix.

If Bragdon remains president, the higher profile won't change him, he and his colleagues say.

"I expect Senator Bragdon will do exactly what he always does," said state Sen. Sharon Carson, R-Hudson, "and that's lead. He did a phenomenal job over the past two years, and I expect he'll do the same job over the next two years."

Bragdon said his primary policy focus has always been on economic issues, and that will remain true.

He believes Republicans in the Senate were able to retain a majority because "we focused on jobs and the economy and stayed away from a lot of the stuff that independents, who decide elections, are not interested in," namely, the social issues.

In discussions, he does not shy away from his pro-life stance, but he said he realizes "the people elected us to focus on certain things, such as taxes and spending."

That pragmatic approach was spawned by an upbringing on the Bragdon Family Farm in his native Amherst. He was part of the fourth generation of his family to work the farm, which many years ago was home to a ski area and is now preserved for conservation and recreation.

Bragdon, after attending public schools in Amherst, earned a degree in computer science, with a mathematics minor, from the University of Massachusetts-Lowell.

He ran Achieve! Technology, a software company in Amherst, before selling off its product lines several years ago.

Since then, he said, he has devoted his time to public service, not only in Senate, where he will enter his fifth term after being unopposed by a Democrat in the general election, but also on the Milford School Board, where he is now in his 16th year overall and served as chairman for 12 years.

Bragdon briefly ran the former Milford Observer community newspaper, which he says has now "suspended its operations."

But his business experience inspires confidence among Republicans of all ideological stripes.

"I have no doubt that Peter will easily step into the role he will now have as the primary Republican voice in Concord," said conservative activist Jennifer Horn of Nashua.

"He'll look at the position he's in and understand that the entire Republican Party is going to be looking to him to be a strong leader."

O'Brien agreed.

"He is a pragmatic guy and on a personal level, we got along very well," he said, "and that's an indication he can get along with folks throughout the party.

"I think he will be cautious, and I don't mean that in a negative way. He will look at the issues and understand what it is to portray any conservative alternative. He will work across the aisle but without sacrificing his principles," O'Brien said.

Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, one of Bragdon's closest confidantes in the Senate, said Bragdon "is the sort of guy who makes sure the trains run on time, and he's fair. He's very pragmatic, and that has worked well.

"He's very detail-oriented," Bradley said. "He reads every bill carefully and understands the implications of every bill."

"He is focused on good policy and good government," said Michael Dennehy, a Republican political consultant who has worked with Bragdon on the Republican Senate Majority committee, a political action committed focused on getting Republicans elected to the Senate.

"He's not someone who has in the back of his mind what the next step or the next office may be."

Bragdon, meanwhile, insists he feels no additional pressure.

"I've worked with the Democrats before," he said. "We get along very well.

"We'll simply do our best to address the issues, and if you win, you win, and if you lose, you lose."

But Bragdon said he does not intend to be overly flexible.

"Having spent the last two years trying to dig ourselves out of a fiscal hole created in the prior four years, we're not going to let that happen again," he said. "I don't see new taxes having majority support in the Senate.''

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John DiStaso may be reached at jdistaso@unionleader.com.

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