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Dave Solomon has been a reporter or editor for New England news organizations since 1977. He has served as executive editor of both the Portsmouth Herald and the Nashua Telegraph. He joined the reporting staff of the New Hampshire Union Leader in 2012.

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June 19. 2014 12:25AM

Dave Solomon's Granite Status: GOP senate candidates spar over unity pledge

Who blinked?

Up until Wednesday evening, U.S. Senate candidates Bob Smith and Jim Rubens had both declined to sign a GOP unity pledge circulated by state Republican Party Chair Jennifer Horn, which would commit both men as well as former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown to support whichever wins their primary for the right to face incumbent Democrat Jeanne Shaheen this fall. Brown had already signed.

Horn, in a strongly worded letter sent Wednesday, challenged Smith’s and Rubens’ commitment to the party and the task of unseating Shaheen.

"Your refusal to sign our party unity letter raises very serious questions about your commitment to Republican victories in November," she wrote. "You have created the perception that you might be open to supporting a Democrat or a third-party candidate over our Republican nominee. If this is something that either of you are considering, you should make this known in advance of the primary to the Republican grassroots activists who are working so hard on your behalf."

Horn’s letter came the day after Rubens and Smith told the Union Leader they would not sign the pledge, for now. Citing Brown’s failure to appear at recent debates, both said promising to endorse him should he win the primary would be premature.

Well, Brown announced Wednesday afternoon that he will participate in two more debates. Hours later, claiming credit for Brown’s announcement, Rubens announced he will now sign Horn’s pledge.

That leaves Smith the lone holdout.

"You are the only candidates to receive this letter who have curiously declined to make this simple promise," Horn had written to both Smith and Rubens.

Smith was unapologetic in his response.

"Under no circumstances will I endorse the Democrat nominee or a third-party candidate in this race," he said. "I supported the Republican platform more than 98 percent of the time over an 18 year career in the U.S. House and Senate. I support every plank in the Republican platform. Who else in this race can say that? If you had extended me the courtesy of a private letter and allowed me to answer these questions prior to making your accusations in public, I would have made this known to you."

Rubens said Wednesday night in a statement that he had not signed in order to ask "the NHGOP to force Scott Brown to participate in debates. He had previously declined or ignored debate requests, committing only to a short segment this week and another debate less than a week before from the election, both restrictive formats.’’

"I am encouraged," Rubens said, "to see that Scott Brown has relented, agreeing to my requests and will now participate in two additional debates."

Switching sides

Two Republican activists, former State Rep. Henry Mock of Jackson and incumbent state Rep. Phillip Straight, R-Merrimack, announced on Wednesday that they were switching their support from Rubens to Brown because Rubens would not sign the unity letter.

"In order to achieve victory this November, New Hampshire Republicans must unite behind our chosen nominee after the primary race. Anything less than that will diminish our chances to face off against Sen. Shaheen in the general election and win this race for Granite State families," said Mock in an email. "I am hopeful each candidate will acknowledge the importance of chairman Horn’s unity letter come September."

While Mock did not mention Rubens by name, Straight was not so charitable.

"I respect Jim and will fully support him if he is our nominee," he wrote. "But I’m surprised that Jim won’t agree to support the winner of the Republican Senate primary and commit to attend the party’s unity breakfast. Republicans need to be 100 percent united in November and it’s troubling that Jim has indicated he may not vote for a Republican if he doesn’t win the nomination."

Two more debates

The Brown campaign debate announcement brings the total to four confirmed "debates" with all three candidates, if you count the forum to air this Sunday on WMUR’s CloseUp program, which is not really a debate format.

In addition to "CloseUp," Brown had previously agreed to attend the Sept. 4 WMUR and Union Leader debate at the St. Anselm College Institute of Politics.

Brown’s campaign has now agreed to appear in an Aug. 14 debate hosted by the Mt. Washington Valley Economic Council, and on WGIR’s New Hampshire Today program, with host Jack Heath and political writer John DiStaso serving as moderators.

The WGIR event is tentatively scheduled for Aug. 27 or 28 during the 7 to 9 a.m. part of show.

"Scott Brown continues to run a traditional New Hampshire campaign, and debates are an important part of that process to connect with Republican and independent voters across the state," said campaign manager Colin Reed. "We’re taking nothing for granted and working hard for every vote that will carry us to victory in the fall and ensure that Jeanne Shaheen is a one-term senator."

Jack is back

Smith announced on Wednesday that tea party firebrand and former state GOP chair Jack Kimball is now his campaign manager.

"I am proud that Jack has agreed to take on this important role in the campaign as we unite conservatives across New Hampshire and strive to win the Republican primary in September," Smith said.

Kimball, a Seacoast area businessman, rose to short-lived prominence in the GOP after an unsuccessful campaign for the gubernatorial nomination in 2010. He became party chair in early 2011, but by the fall of that year had lost the support of the state’s top elected Republicans, even though he still had backers on the state committee.

There’s a bit of irony in the fact that Kimball joins the Smith campaign while Smith is at odds with the incumbent party chair over party unity.

In September 2011, facing a possible ouster vote, Kimball stepped down as GOP chair voluntarily. "This was a very difficult decision," Kimball told the Union Leader at the time. "I really, really cannot stand in the way any longer. People were looking at me as an obstacle to party unity and I don’t want that."

Postcard presentation

The N.H. chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America plans to present 4,250 postcards to Sen. Kelly Ayotte at her Manchester field office as part of a national campaign in support of the Manchin-Toomey amendment.

Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania proposed legislation that would have mandated criminal background checks on all sales between private parties, including gun shows and Internet sales, but not requiring them of family members and friends giving or selling guns to each other.

Ayotte was the only New England senator voting to supporter a filibuster earlier in the year that doomed the measure, for now.

Recent shootings have revived calls to bring the bill to a vote. After the killings of six people at the University of California at Santa Barbara, (three of whom were stabbed, not shot) Richard Martinez, the father of one victim, issued a public plea. "I’m going to ask every person I can find to send a postcard to every politician they can think of," he said on national TV, "with three words on it: "Not one more.’"

A spokesman for the N.H group said the "Not One More" postcards will be delivered to the senator’s Elm Street office at 10 a.m.

A spokesman for Ayotte said she is proud of her record on the issue: "In the Senate, she has led bipartisan efforts to strengthen our mental health system, and she has voted for legislation that had bipartisan support to fix the current broken background check system, increase the prosecution of those who illegally seek to obtain firearms, and provide additional resources for school safety, while protecting the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens."

Military honors

Ayotte was recently honored for her work on behalf veterans and the U.S. Marine Corps. The New Hampshire chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) presented her with the "Citizen of the Year Award," at its convention on June 7, and the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation presented her with the "Semper Fidelis Award" at its convention on June 1.

"I think if you were to ask every veteran, not just in New Hampshire, but also across our great nation, you would hear them say that Sen. Ayotte has proven time and time again that she is truly a leader and staunch supporter of issues related to the well-being of our active duty military and National Guard, our veterans and their families," said Mark McCabe, commander of the New Hampshire VFW.

At the Annual Marine Corps Scholarship Celebration Gala in Washington, D.C., Ayotte received the "Semper Fidelis Award," which is presented to an outstanding member of Congress for patriotic service and support of the Marine Corps.

dsolomon@unionleader.com


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