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John DiStaso's Granite Status: Dark-horse emerges as potential front-runner for new NHGOP exec director

Senior Political Reporter

January 29. 2013 11:15AM

TUESDAY, JAN. 29: DARK-HORSE? While a handful of Granite State GOP activists are already jockeying for the soon-to-be-open post of state party executive director, a dark horse has emerged who just may have the inside track.


We’ve learned that Ryan Gough, the former Republican National Committee "Victory" director from Iowa, has been in the state in recent days meeting with, and impressing, high-ranking Republicans.


Gough has received high marks for his work in Iowa from former New Hampshire "Victory" staffers, including former state "Victory" director Brennan Ward, who has been introducing him to New Hampshire Republicans.


We understand Gough is interested in working in the GOP in New Hampshire, either as executive director or in another significant role.


True, Mitt Romney lost Iowa in the 2012 election, but he also lost New Hampshire.


New party chairman Jennifer Horn is in the market for an executive director, which is obviously her most important appointment as she looks to rebuild the party on all front, including expanding the staff.


Current executive director Jon Simons told us Tuesday he hopes to return to Washington by the end of February and never expected to remain at the party after a new chairman was chosen.


"I’m a realist and know that with a new chairman coming in, they are going to want to have someone in there to enforce their vision and someone who will commit for a couple of years," Simons said. "I can’t do that."


He said a "majority of my life is still down in D.C."


Simons came to the party in July 2012 from the Washington area public affairs firm DDC Advocacy after former executive director Tory Mazzola left unexpectedly for an opportunity in the private sector.


Simons said he wanted to "help with the transition" from former chairman Wayne MacDonald to Horn, "but I told Jennifer I’d like to go down south soon.


He said he’s willing to "stay around through February," but if something "pops up" sooner, he may depart before then.


Republicans tell us that among those who have expressed interest in the job are Ward, former Romney state director Phil Valenziano, former Herman Cain state director Matt Murphy, current party political director Jake Avery, former top Rick Santorum/Romney staffers Nick Pappas and Kristen Beaulieu and former Ovide Lamontagne and Romney campaign staffer Jill Neunaber.


(Earlier Granite Status reports follow.)


TUESDAY, JAN. 29: DEFENDING GOP LEADERSHIP. New State Republican Party Chairman Jennifer Horn has defended the former Republican majority legislative leadership, while declining to engage her Democratic counterpart on his criticism of former speaker Bill O'Brien.


NHDP Chair Raymond Buckley on Monday emailed supporters saying that because O'Brien nominated Horn for party chairman on Saturday, it showed he stills has "control over" the NHGOP. (See our full report below.)


Horn replied late Monday, "The most recent Republican Leadership balanced the budget, eliminated a $900 million, Democrat-created deficit and reduced taxes and fees.


"Their leadership lessened the burden on families across the state and led to renewed job growth," Horn said.


"I hope that Governor Hassan will apply the same common sense approach that the Republicans did in coming up with reasonable revenue estimates and that she will follow the lead of the Republican majority in the Senate as she works on the budget."


(Earlier Granite Status reports follow.)


MONDAY, JAN. 28: THE NEW CHAIR. Jennifer Horn is spending her first business day on the job as the new chair of the New Hampshire Republican Party beginning to work on her goal of building a "finely-tuned political machine" that can compete effectively with the state Democratic Party.

She also received her first jab from her Democratic counterpart.

Horn was elected chair by a vote of 222 to 189 at the state committee's annual meeting on Saturday, defeating liberty movement activist and former Newt Gingrich state campaign manager Andrew Hemingway.

Hemingway won praise after the vote for moving to make the official tally a single unanimous vote for Horn.

Horn today was at the state GOP headquarters in Concord where she met with the three party staffers and new party vice chair J.P. Marzullo.

She said she expected to meet with outgoing chairman Wayne MacDonald "to ensure that we have a smooth and unified transition."

"As with any political operation, fund-raising is the priority and we've already begun that process today," Horn said.

She said plans are underway for two upcoming special House elections.

"There will be no huge shake up in staff out of the gate," Horn said. "I'm going to take a very careful and thoughtful approach to everything and make sure we have the best people in the correct positions. And that's a process that takes a little bit of time.

"We have good people who have been working hard here for a long time and we will go forward with good people who are working hard here for a long time," said Horn.

But Horn said she hopes to expand the staff in the near future to a "fully-funded, much larger staff. It's going to mean technology upgrades. It's going to mean a winning election strategy.

"These are all things that we're already talking about and hoping to put the right pieces in place for," she said.

The Democrats wasted no time trying to raise money from the results of the NHGOP election.

State Democratic Party chair Raymond Buckley noted in an email to supporters today, entitled "Bill O'Brien's chair," that the former House speaker delivered a nominating speech for Horn.

Buckley wrote that although O'Brien lost the Speaker's post as a result of the November election, when Democrats gained control of the House, his role at the annual GOP meeting showed his "control over the New Hampshire Republican Party was evident."

"Since 1999, New Hampshire Republicans have elected 10 state party chairs," Buckley wrote.

"During that same period, Kathy Sullivan and I are the only two to have the honor of chairing the New Hampshire Democratic Party. The continuity, steady leadership, and experience of our officers benefits our party and our candidates as we seamlessly transition between election cycles, while Republicans are always struggling to rebuild."

The next major Republican event is a Feb. 7 meeting at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics to discuss the last election and look ahead.

The closed-door event is being organized by the new RightOn Strategies consulting firm, headed by Mike Biundo, Derek Dufresne and Kory Wood.

Organizers plan to limit attendance to 100 but, said Dufresne, "We already have over 75 confirmations more than two weeks out from the meeting.

"Due to the incredible response from top Republican leaders and activists in New Hampshire who want to work together towards victory in 2014 and 2016, we are already discussing the possibility of additional working sessions," he said.

The most recent confirmed attendees are Executive Councilor Chris Sununu, Republican National Committeewoman Juliana Bergeron, former RNC member Phyllis Woods, state Sen. Sharon Carson, former party secretary Greg Carson, former Deputy House speaker and current Rep. Pam Tucker, Carroll County GOP chairman and Rep. Joseph Fleck, Belknap County GOP Chair Alan Glassman, former Grafton County GOP chairman Bruce Perlo, Exeter GOP chair Brian Griset, and Merrimack GOP chair Chris Buda.

Also, the organizers reached out to young Republicans. Confirmed are New Hampshire College Republicans chair Jake Wagner, UNH college GOP chair Brian Dobson, Saint Anselm college GOP chair Tara Sennick and New England College Republican chair Amanda Biundo.

MONDAY, JAN. 28: FOLEY GOES OFF. Much of the talk after the meeting and today among the party faithful was the scolding NHGOP finance chairman Jim Foley leveled on some state committee members during his finance committee report on Saturday.

On a day the party faithful were focusing on unity, Foley, delivering his report from the podium, blasted Republicans who have been critical of the party organization and its fund-raising efforts, including its short-lived attempt to charge committee members $25, a move Foley supported.

Said one committee member, "It was just a weird, shocking moment for everyone."

(Earlier Granite Status reports follow.)

MONDAY, JAN. 28: POLL: YES TO CASINOS, GAS TAX HIKE. New Hampshire voters want more funding for higher education and support both casino gambling and a higher gas tax to pay for road and bridge repairs, a new poll shows.

New England College says it polled 656 registered New Hampshire voters Jan. 21 and 22, finding:

- 65 percent supported and 23 percent opposed an increase in funding for higher education in the state.

Support was divided along party lines. NEC said that among Democrats, 88 percent favored more higher education funding and 5 percent were opposed with 7 percent unsure. Among Republicans, 49 percent favored more higher education funding, 38 percent were opposed and 13 percent were unsure.

- 54 percent favored and 35 percent opposed "the idea of legalizing casino gambling" in New Hampshire.

NEC said Republicans favored the idea 57 to 35 percent with 8 percent unsure and Democrats supported it 49 to 30 percent with 12 percent unsure.

- 40 percent favored and 37 percent opposed "an increased gas tax to repair and expand the state's roads and bridges.

NEC said 71 percent of Democrats favored the idea while 15 percent were opposed and 14 percent were unsure, while 31 percent of Republicans favored an increased gas tax, 54 percent were opposed and 15 percent were not sure.

(Earlier Granite Status reports follow.)

FRIDAY, JAN. 25: FIRST CHALLENGE. New Hampshire Republican National Committeeman Steve Duprey told the Granite Status today he sees no support in the RNC for a move by an Arizona lawmaker to jump that state's 2016 presidential primary ahead of first-in-the-nation New Hampshire in 2016.

According to the Arizona Capitol Times, Republican state Rep. Phil Lovas has authored a bill that would require Arizona's primary to be held on the same day as the Iowa caucuses, which have been first in the nation since 1972 and several days ahead of New Hampshire's first primary. If another state leapfrogs Iowa, the bill calls for Arizona to match that date, the Capitol Times reported.

Duprey, in Charlotte, N.C., for the RNC winter meeting, said, "There is no support for Arizona doing that here. People seem to like the way it's set up now."

At their national convention last year, the Republicans, with former Gov. John H. Sununu chairing the convention rules committee, adopted tougher delegate sanctions against states that jump ahead of its adopted calendar.

That calendar allows no primaries or caucuses to begin before March 1, 2016, except for Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, which will be allowed to hold their contests in February 2016.

The new RNC rule also will not withhold delegates from any of the four early states if they are force by a renegade state to move ahead of the set calendar.

The Democratic National Committee also has a strong pro-New Hampshire rule on its books.

It's unclear if Lovas' bill has any widespread support even in Arizona. Spokesmen for both state parties there were noncommittal, according to the report from that state.

This is not the first time Arizona considered a challenge to New Hampshire.

Back in 1992, it mounted a serious challenge by passing a law requiring its primary to be held on the same day as New Hampshire's. The move was supported by former Arizona Gov. Fife Symington and former Sen. Phil Gramm. But in 1995, Arizona backed off, repealing its law before the 1996 primary process began.

Separately, Duprey said that at the winter meeting, Virginia delegate Morton Blackwell's move to forbid changes in the party rules between conventions _ a return to the status quo prior to the 2012 convention _ has been a hot topic of discussion.

But he said overall, national committee members are spending much time sorting through the results of the Nov. 6 election.

"The overall consensus is that we did a great job in some ways but couldn't in one year build the kind of organization the President built in four years," he said.

"We have also strayed from putting conservative values in an optimistic light, as Ronald Reagan once did," said Duprey.

The RNC also reelected Reince Priebus as its chairman on Friday. He was facing a minor challenge from Ron Paul supporter Mark Willis of Maine.

In New Hampshire, meanwhile, the Republican State Committee will meet on Saturday at Bedford High School to elect a new chairman to suceed the outgoing Wayne MacDonald.

(Earlier Granite Status reports follow.)

THURSDAY, JAN. 24, UPDATE: EMIRO OUT. Former state Rep. Frank Emiro today dropped out of the race for NHGOP vice chairman. His decision leaves J.P. Marzullo as the lone candidate for the post being vacated by Cliff Hurst.

Write-ins will be allowed on the ballot for all officers, according to party spokesman Meg Stone.

Emiro cited his continuing work with veterans and other "political and non-political issues" in a letter to outgoing chairman Wayne MacDonald.

(The full Jan. 24 Granite Status follows.)

THURSDAY, JAN. 24: CROSSROADS? How enthusiastic are hard-core Republicans nearly three months after their Nov. 6 debacle?

We'll get an idea Saturday at 10 a.m. when the Republican State Committee gathers for its annual meeting at Bedford High School and elects a new chairman to succeed outgoing Wayne MacDonald.

In case you've been on another planet lately, the choice is between activists Jennifer Horn and Andrew Hemingway.

How many of the 506 committee members will show?

Two years ago, after huge GOP wins in mid-term elections, there was a strong turnout when 421 voted between Jack Kimball and Julianna Bergeron. Kimball took the chair, 222 to 199.

This year, the stakes are just as high, if not higher.

Once dominant in New Hampshire, the GOP has fallen on tough times and the split between establishment and the Tea Party/liberty movement, which surfaced two years ago, continues.

Can Horn or Hemingway be a unifier?

These days, the NHGOP is running a distant second, organizationally, to the state Democratic Party. The next chairman has a lot of catching up to do.

It wasn't that way a while ago.

After the last GOP crash, the election of 2008, the party quickly unified behind, love him or hate him, former Gov. John H. Sununu. As chairman, he rebuilt finances and staff, became a relentless messenger for the cause, and the 2010 election results spoke for themselves.

Sununu, however, could not control his own state committee in the end, when his choice of a successor, Bergeron, lost to Kimball. It just showed, again, how unpredictable the state committee can be.

Sununu has stayed out of it this time, but the committee remains as unpredictable as ever.

How much GOP enthusiasm will Horn and Hemingway generate? How committed are the Republicans to rebuilding?

We'll see on Saturday.

WHO'S WITH WHOM? Endorsements are piling up for the two.

Wednesday, Kimball, still a major player in the Tea Party/liberty movement but not a voting state committee member, backed Hemingway, calling him "the only candidate who can and will unite our party."

State Sen. Andy Sanborn followed with an endorsement of Hemingway.

Horn picked up a strong group of backers in the five members of the Manchester Republican Committee's executive board: Chairman Will Infantine and members Tammy Simmons, B.J. Perry, Lisa Swank and Sean Thomas.

Those came the day after former Manchester chairman Cliff Hurst told us he's backing Hemingway.

Infantine and the other Manchester board members said the party needs a chair "who will mobilize grassroots activists, utilize new technologies, articulate our message and raise the funds necessary to ensure it reaches voters throughout New Hampshire." And Horn is their person.

Funny thing is the messages of support for either candidate are similar: Horn/Hemingway will bring stronger messaging, stronger fund-raising and better use of technology.

Horn on Tuesday was backed by 15 voting members of the Nashua Republican City Committee.

Both Hemingway and Horn sent out positive, full-color mailers this week with similar messages, focusing on improving both technology and messaging.

OTHER RACES. Republicans were to choose between former candidate for governor Frank Emiro and activist J.P. Marzullo to be vice chairman to succeed Hurst.

But as we report above, Emiro dropped out on Thursday afternoon, leaving Marzullo unopposed.

Ballots contain space for write-ins for all officers' posts, however, said NHGOP spokesman Meg Stone.

Party vets Jeff Newman and Fran Wendelboe are running for assistant secretary, while Thomas Howard and Rob Kasper are candidates for Area IV vice chairman, which covers Cheshire and Sullivan counties.

Only the committee members from that area will vote in that race.

Uncontested are Diane Bitter for secretary, Robert Scott for treasurer and Eileen Smiglowski for assistant treasurer.

Uncontested vice chairs are Vicki Schwaegler for Area I, Jim Doburn for Area II, Mark Vincent for Area III and Alan Glassman for Area V.

Bedford's Sanborn will deliver opening remarks. The committee is also scheduled to hear from U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, Executive Councilor Chris Sununu, Senate President Peter Bragdon and House Republican Leader Gene Chandler.

BY-LAW PROPOSALS. The state committee will vote on nine changes to party by-laws, including a provision to forbid government employees from being state committee members. MacDonald, the out-going chairman, is a state employee.

Other proposals include creation of the positions of chairman-emeritus, coalition chairman and assistant to the chairman for technology on the party executive committee.

Potentially controversial proposals address whether the executive committee can impose a "tax or fee" on state committee members. One would forbid the executive committee from doing so and another would require a three-fifths majority of the entire state committee.

A plan to charge committee members $25 was raised and quickly squelched following widespread opposition last year.

Another proposal would allow the executive committee to vote on whether the party chairman should be paid.

JOE AND FRIENDS. While the Republicans prepared for serious business this week, the Democrats reveled in their successes.

As we reported earlier, a large group of Granite Staters attended the inaugural of President Barack Obama with an influential group invited to Vice President Joe Biden's official residence, the U.S. Naval Observatory, on Sunday for an inaugural reception.

For Biden, it appeared to be a look ahead to 2016.

Afterward, state Sen. Lou D'Allesandro told Politico, "I took a look at who was there, and said to myself, 'There's no question he's thinking about the future.'"

Politico reported the group of about 200 guests was heavy with Democrats from not only first-primary state New Hampshire, but from first-caucus state Iowa.

BIG CROWD EXPECTED. The confirmed guest list for a Feb. 7 Republican "soul-searching" meeting hosted by Mike Biundo, Derek Dufresne and Kory Wood of the RightOn Strategies consulting firm is growing.

Both major candidates for NHGOP chair, Horn and Hemingway, have committed to the event at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at St. Anselm College.

We've now learned from someone who will attend that the guest list includes:

Kevin Smith, former candidate for governor and former executive director of Cornerstone Policy Research; Kimball; former House speaker Bill O'Brien, Corey Lewandowski, state director of Americans for Prosperity-New Hampshire; current Cornerstone Executive Director Ashley Pratte, former Cornerstone executive director Shannon McGinley, Sanborn, Rockingham County GOP Chair Regina Birdsell and former Rockingham County GOP chair Michael Silverwood.

Also, Hillsborough County GOP chair Ray Chadwick, Manchester chair Infantine, Rochester chair Randy Bowen, Concord chair Kerry Marsh, Granite Grok blog co-founder Skip Murphy and NHGOP vice chair candidate Marzullo.

A FIRST LOOK. Secretary of State Bill Gardner is in Washington today as co-chairman of the National Association of Secretaries of States' presidential primaries subcommittee.

Gardner said it's the first event the secretaries from across the country will have looking ahead to the 2016 primary and caucus calendar.

Gardner said a discussion of the rules adopted for the nominating calendar by each national party will be headed by former Gov. Sununu, who chaired the Republican National Convention Rules Committee, and Jim Roosevelt of Massachusetts, the longtime chair of the Democratic National Committee Rules and By-Laws Committee.

Both political parties last year adopted rules giving New Hampshire's 2016 primary strong protection and to try to dissuade "renegade" states, such as Florida and, lately, Nevada from trying to wreak havoc next time around.

(John DiStaso is senior political reporter of the New Hampshire Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter: @jdistaso.)

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