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John DiStaso's Granite Status: Santorum appearance at NHGOP event sparks criticism from pro-gay marriage party activist

By John DiStaso, Senior Political Reporter
February 12. 2014 5:19PM

WEDNESDAY, FEB. 12: SANTORUM SPURS CRITICISM. The New Hampshire Republican Party's decision to invite 2012 presidential candidate and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum to speak at a major upcoming event is not sitting well with a prominent GOP gay rights advocate.

The NHGOP announced Wednesday morning that Santorum will join Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, Rep. Pete King, former Ambassador John Bolton and others at the March 14-15 Northeastern Republican Leadership Conference in Nashua, which is expected to attract Republicans from throughout the Northeast.

The stated goal of the conference is to discuss how to expand the base of the GOP to put it in a stronger position to succeed in the 2014 and 2016 elections.

Tyler Deaton, current national committeeman for the New Hampshire Young Republicans and former executive director of the former pro-gay marriage group New Hampshire Republicans for Freedom and Equality, criticized the choice.

"It's embarrassing for the New Hampshire Republican Party to associate itself with Rick Santorum, especially at a time when we have so much opportunity to be successful," he told the Granite Status.

"Most Granite Staters, including, Republicans, reject Santorum's disgusting comments directed at gay and lesbian Americans. He has no role in the future of our party and his invitation to the Northeastern Republican Leadership Conference should be rescinded."

Santorum, who finished fourth in the 2012 first-in-the-nation New Hampshire primary, has been a strong proponent of traditional marriage and has opposed same-sex marriage. He is considering running again for President in 2016.

NHGOP chair Jennifer Horn responded that the conference "is an opportunity for Republicans from across the party spectrum to come together and discuss our shared principles of limited government, individual liberty and fiscal responsibility.

She said, "It is unfortunate that there are some in our party who want to exclude others based on a disagreement over one issue or another. As long as there are members of our party unwilling to respect their differences, it makes it more difficult to focus on defeating Democrats. I have been very clear as Chairman that bigotry of any kind will not be tolerated in the NHGOP. I have gone out of my way to send the message that all Republicans are welcome at the table.

Horn continued, "This unfortunate attack on the party by a fellow-Republican is particularly disappointing to me. This person reached out to me several months ago on behalf of a congressional campaign and I personally assured him that the party is prepared to promote and support all of our nominees for office. Nothing is accomplished by trying to silence the opinions of others, and this person should focus on engaging in a respectful debate of ideas."

Party sources said the congressional campaign Horn was referring to was that of 1st District Republican hopeful Dan Innis.

Although Deaton has no formal role with the Innis campaign, his colleague at B-Fresh Consulting, Chris Stewart, is the top consultant to the Innis campaign. Stewart is currently on leave from B-Fresh as he works on the Innis campaign.

Sources said NHGOP invited former Utah Gov. and Ambassador Jon Huntsman, a pro-gay marriage Republican, to the conference. But Huntsman, who finished third in the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary, declined because of a family wedding the weekend of the conference.

We also understand the party executive director Matt Mowers met with the Innis campaign two weeks ago, and Innis, who is gay, was invited to speak at the conference if he wanted to help sponsor the event, which is standard for all campaigns. Mowers also asked the Innis campaign to suggest speakers.

Party sources said Stewart contacted Horn Wednesday this morning and echoed Deaton's concerns about Santorum.

And in an earlier statement issued before the controversy, Horn called Santorum "a strong defender of conservative principles and a champion of pro-growth policies. He understands that in order to create jobs and turn around our economy, we need to cut taxes, reduce spending and repeal ObamaCare. We are proud to have a national leader of Senator Santorum's stature address our conference and discuss his conservative solutions for the challenges facing our country."

(See earlier Granite Status reports elsewhere on this page or by clicking on 'Granite Status' above.)

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