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Smith gears up political comeback try, regrets 'dumb mistake' of 2004

Senior Political Reporter

December 02. 2013 7:01PM

MANCHESTER -- On the first day of his attempt at a political comeback, Republican former U.S. Sen. Bob Smith said he is already close to hiring a campaign manager, has about $50,000 in early fundraising pledges and said he made a "dumb mistake" by endorsing Democrat John Kerry for President nearly a decade ago.

Smith told the New Hampshire Union Leader and on Sunday that after initially deciding against it, he had changed his mind and will be a candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2014, which will be 12 years after the two-term senator lost a party primary to John E. Sununu.

Sununu in 2002 went on to defeat then-Gov. Jeanne Shaheen in the general election but then lost to her in 2008.

Smith, 72, said Monday he will file his candidacy paperwork in the next few days and will begin campaigning by telephone, with his first appearances on the New Hampshire campaign trail not expected until around Christmas.

Two Republicans have already announced for the seat Democrat Shaheen has been actively fund-raising to retain -- former state Sen. Jim Rubens and conservative activist Karen Testerman.

Political observers continue to watch Republican former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, who has his home in the Bay State on the market and has a second home in Rye where he has long spent much time. Brown has made numerous stops in the state for candidates and GOP causes, raising speculation that he may make New Hampshire his official residence and run for the Senate.

Like Brown if he runs, Smith faces the specter of being called a "carpetbagger" by critics.

Smith said Monday that while he has lived and maintained a real estate sales license in Florida for about the past decade, he has also kept his home in Tuftonboro and has always spent "four or five months" a year there.

"All of that," he said, "will be taken care of on Christmas week," when he will register to vote and declare domicile in New Hampshire.

During his time in Florida, Smith ran twice, briefly for the U.S. Senate, in 2004 and 2010.

Before relocating, Smith, who had served three terms in the U.S. House and then two in the Senate from New Hampshire, had a tumultuous political period.

In 1999, Smith, while serving in the Senate, briefly ran for the Republican presidential nomination, then left the party to run for the U.S. Taxpayers Party nomination, but later returned to the GOP.

His hiatus from the GOP earned him 2002 primary opposition from Sununu, who had the backing of the GOP establishment.

Smith said President George W. Bush's chief adviser, Karl Rove, had previously told him the White House would support his reelection.

When that failed to materialize, Smith admitted Monday, he made a "dumb mistake" in anger.

In 2004, a few days before the presidential election, Smith penned a letter endorsing Democrat John Kerry for President over Bush.

Monday, Smith said in retrospect, "It was a dumb mistake. I did something in anger. I wrote a letter to John Kerry. I didn't do anything for him but I did write a letter because I was angry because of the endorsement promised me by President Bush via Karl Rove.

"I was angry and I regret it," he said. "I'm not proud of it but I'm moving on.

"I've got stuff in the past that I have to answer for," he said, "and if people want to use that against me, that's fine."

Smith also said he has about $50,000 in campaign funding pledges so far and has begun looking at campaign staffers.

He said he has been "talking to" veteran conservative activist Sam Pimm, who most recently was field operations director for the Newt Gingrich campaign in New Hampshire while Smith spent several months in the state as an adviser to the Gingrich effort.

Smith said he has spoken with other "folks from Newt's campaign."

He said Merrimack activist and long-time supporter Patricia Miller "will definitely be part of the team."

Smith said he has yet to speak to Brown about the race.

"I don't know Scott and I never met him," he said. "But my decision is independent" of any decision Brown may make regarding New Hampshire."

Meanwhile, Shaheen's campaign wasted no time sending out a fundraising email directed at Smith.

The email, sent late Monday, labels Smith "radical" and says, "His announcement comes just days after the Republican National Committee's first attacks. Deep-pocketed special interests, including those led by Karl Rove, have been waiting for this. With Smith, they have a candidate who has won statewide here before.

"They'll spend and say anything to defeat Jeanne. We have to take this seriously," the email says, seeking donations.

Smith reacted, "I'm flattered."

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