New Hampshire GOP Chairman Jennifer Horn issued a plea for party unity in a letter released on Monday, but it appears to be falling on deaf ears in the hotly contested primary for U.S. Senate.
Former U.S. Sen. Bob Smith and former state Sen. Jim Rubens have so far declined to indicate whether they will support former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown should Brown win the nomination to take on Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen in the fall.
The letter from Horn was sent to all candidates for federal and statewide offices in the primary election, including the U.S. Senate race, as well as the state’s two congressional districts.
The primary for the Republican nomination to U.S. Senate has been heating up, as long-shot candidate Karen Testerman withdrew last week and threw her support behind Smith, leaving him and former state Sen. Jim Rubens in a three-way race with Brown.
Rubens and Smith have criticized Brown for his refusal to debate them, at least up to this point in the campaign. Brown has agreed to appear in at least one scheduled debate closer to the Sept. 9 primary.
In her letter, Horn said that she has promised thousands of grassroots Republican activists in the state that she will put 100 percent of the party’s resources behind GOP nominees for every seat, and that the activists have promised to do the same, no matter who is nominated in the primary.
“Today I ask you to join us in this promise,” she wrote. “I am asking you to promise your full support for the Republican nominee in your race, regardless of which Republican candidate is chosen by our primary voters.”
The letter goes on to ask each candidate to promise to attend the NHGOP Unity Breakfast on Sept. 12.
“Your signature at the bottom of this letter, and returned to me, will send a clear message that you share our commitment to returning Republican leadership to every level of government in 2014,” the letter states.
Months in the making
Horn said the letter was not prompted by the surprise defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in his Republican primary in Virginia last week, nor by the aggressive sparring in the New Hampshire Senate primary.
“It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a couple of months now,” she said in an interview, “not because of any one race. I’ve been in difficult primaries myself, and I know how it can be. I embrace them, and I think they are good for us as a party, but I also think it’s important for the grassroots activists to see that our candidates are as committed to winning as they are.”
Horn ran twice for New Hampshire’s second district congressional seat, winning the Republican nomination in 2008 before losing to Paul Hodes in the general election. In 2010, she lost in the primary to Charlie Bass.
“My expectation is that the letter will be signed and returned in short order by the majority of our candidates,” Horn said.
All GOP candidates receiving the letter, except Smith and Rubens, appear to confirm that expectation.“I have been consistently active in the New Hampshire GOP for the past 20 years. I look forward to the opportunity to support the GOP slate of nominees in November,” Rubens wrote in a statement. “In this case, however, another candidate in this race is someone who has not participated in any debates or public, unfiltered forums. It would be premature of me to pledge my potential support to that candidate at this time before I have a clearer view of who they are, who they represent and what they stand for.”
Smith was more direct.
“At this point, I am not going to sign it,” he said in an interview. “I think Rubens used the term premature, and I would agree with that. I’ve been on the stump for months now, and there have been several forums at which Sen. Brown has not been present, and it’s pretty hard to know what a person’s views are under those circumstances. I need to have this race unfold more before I make any commitments.”
A spokesman for the Brown campaign said he will sign the letter.
Some rocky history
In the first district congressional race, former U.S. Rep. Frank Guinta and his challenger, University of New Hampshire professor Dan Innis, have both agreed to sign the letter, as have second district candidates state Rep. Marilinda Garcia and former state Sen. Gary Lambert.
Gubernatorial candidates Andrew Hemingway and Walt Havenstein are also on board.
In 2002, Smith lost his re-election bid when he was defeated in the GOP primary by John E. Sununu. He skipped the Republican Unity Breakfast, citing the need to cast important votes in Washington, D.C.
According to news reports at the time, Smith did not vote on the Senate bills that day, although Sen. Judd Gregg attended the breakfast and rushed back to Washington, D.C., to vote in the afternoon.
Smith caused some concern among the party faithful in May when he was overheard telling former Manchester Republican Party Chairman Gerry Thibodeau that Brown will lose to Shaheen if nominated, and that if Republicans nominate Brown, “they (the GOP) will deserve to lose.”
Smith confirmed the comments, describing them as part of a “very animated” conversation with Thibodeau, a Brown supporter, at a Friends of the NRA fundraiser.