Corey Lewandowski: Divisive but a politically dangerous wild card

Corey Lewandowski, left, is seriously exploring a Republican bid for U.S. Senate and hopes some GOP hopefuls already in would consider getting out to avoid a divisive primary in September 2020. The former national campaign manager for President Donald Trump stands next to him during a rally.

WINDHAM — He’s never held elective office, can’t get along with his neighbors and at a young age managed to anger one of the most powerful, storied families in New Hampshire political history.

This makes it all the more fascinating that leading figures in both political parties are obsessed with whether Corey Lewandowski, the former national campaign manager for President Donald Trump, will challenge popular Democratic U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen in 2020.

Lewandowski, 46, sounded like a candidate during a telephone interview with the Union Leader last week.

“I am taking a very long look at this race,” said Lewandowski, a Windham resident who’s been a leading surrogate for Trump since Lewandowski lost a power struggle with now-convicted former campaign manager Paul Manafort and left the presidential campaign in June 2016.

“I have been here my entire adult life. My children go to school here,” he said. “I’ve coached for all the sport teams my kids have been involved in. I could live anywhere, but I choose to live here because it’s the last island of low taxes, less government and limited regulation that I cherish, and I want to do all I can to help preserve that, including in 2020.”

And the burning question yet to be answered is whether Lewandowski will get a shout out from Trump, who stars at a reelection campaign style rally at the SNHU Arena in Manchester this Thursday night.

Lewandowski confided during a radio talk show last week he recently spoke with Trump but that the topic was their children and not New Hampshire politics.

Greg Moore took over as state director for Americans for Prosperity when Lewandowski left to take a higher post in that Koch Network-financed organization.

“He’ll go through the whole due diligence and do what’s best for his family, but I see Corey doing this,” said Moore, who talked with Lewandowski for more than an hour about the pros and the cons of the race in the past week.

“He’s fired up about it. He can bring a lot of energy, and the President’s organization will get behind him. There are very few who could instantly get into this race and be a big-time factor, but he’s one who can,” Moore said.

This decision marks a reversal of sorts since Lewandowski essentially dismissed the notion when a previous rumor surfaced about it last December.

Lewandowski’s heavy flirtation now has rocked the political world in the New Hampshire GOP, starting with the three Republicans who were already announced or making plans to run.

Nobody’s leaving if Corey is in

Former House Speaker Bill O’Brien of Nashua said it’s full speed ahead on his campaign and insisted a race against Lewandowski would not change their personal friendship.

‘ “I welcome that challenge. We are confident we are going to win. As far as I’m concerned, the more the merrier,” said O’Brien, who’s hired staff and recruited dozens of current and past GOP lawmakers to back his bid.

The other declared candidate, retired Brig. Gen. Don Bolduc of Stratham, said a Lewandowski campaign “is not going to change our plans,” and he announced recently that nearly two dozen activists were backing his run.

Aides to the third potential GOP candidate, multimillionaire Wolfeboro trial lawyer Bryant “Corky” Messner, said he’s not pulling back on his exploratory campaign.

Even some who welcome Lewandowski’s entry were surprised he’d be so outspoken in condemning the prospect of a multi-candidate primary fight for the Senate seat.

“If I get into the race I will have the resources to run a successful campaign from a national database of supporters. This is something my good friends looking at this race do not have,” Lewandowski said.

“Anytime you challenge an entrenched incumbent the last thing you want to have is an intramural party fight that stretches on into the summer and fall. What many don’t appreciate is New Hampshire’s September primary is one of the latest in the country. If we spend all that time dividing among ourselves and fighting, that improves Senator Shaheen’s chances of getting another six-year ticket punched by the voters.”

As the one with the closest ties to Trump, Lewandowski said it leaves the others without the winning message.

“I look at the others. They can’t run as the Trump guy. They can’t run as the candidate who can build a national financial network of supporters. I am not a career politician,” Lewandowski said. “If I get in, what is the argument for them to stay in the race? I’m not trying to be braggadocio about this, but facts are facts.”

O’Brien said primaries make candidates better as the 2010 Senate one did for Kelly Ayotte, who narrowly beat Ovide Lamontagne and went on to crush Democratic Congressman Paul Hodes.

“It made her a better candidate. She was better on the stump and articulated her positions. These primaries require all of us to think through our positions and to defend them,” O’Brien said. “Each party should be doing that on its side of the ledger.”

Some in the political establishment here will never warm up to having the blunt, sometimes abrasive Lewandowski represent them as a GOP nominee for statewide office.

Gregg: ‘He’s a thug’

“He’s a thug,” former U.S. Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., told NH Journal.  “He’s part of Trump’s cadre of thugs. If he were to run and become the nominee, it would be an outrage.”

Lewandowski shot back to the Union Leader that Gregg was one of those “career politicians” that destroyed the country and led to Trump’s election.

Count on the New Hampshire Democratic Party to focus on some of the controversies Lewandowski has faced since 2016 as a consultant and issue campaign strategist in Washington.

“Corey Lewandowski is a craven lobbyist who has been credibly accused of assault many times and is chomping at the bit to strip away Granite Staters’ health care,” said Josh Marcus-Blank, a spokesman for the party. “Meanwhile, Senator Shaheen is making a difference for New Hampshire families, leading efforts in the Senate to expand access to health care and taking on the big drug companies to lower the costs of prescription drugs. The contrast couldn’t be more clear.”

Mike Dennehy, who worked the late John McCain’s two winning presidential primary campaigns in New Hampshire, admitted not knowing quite what to make of all the Lewandowski speculation.

He wishes for more candidates who instead look at opposing first-term U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas for a 1st Congressional District seat that’s a plus 3 percent advantage for Republicans in a typical presidential election year.

“It’s hard to know whether this is real or not. There’s no question Corey would be a factor,” Dennehy said.

“What I would like to see is some of these Republicans in the Senate race take a harder look at the 1st District seat,” he said. “There’s a real opportunity for the right person running, but all of them seem focused solely on trying to take on Shaheen, which is no walk in the park.”

Another senior GOP operative, not a fan of Trump, said Shaheen must welcome this development.

“This more than doubles what she can easily raise for 2020; it becomes a national narrative, and the Trump haters will bid up in the tens of millions if it’s Lewandowski against Shaheen,” he said.

The story line spreads across the country as former Trump Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders seriously weighs a bid for governor in Arkansas and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo won’t rule out a run for Senate in Kansas and gives a major speech at Kansas State University next month.

Trump made Lewandowski a ‘rock star’

Lewandowski’s work on the Trump campaign made him a political rock star, especially in bedrock conservative circles that led to invitations for him to speak at Oxford University and in Warsaw, Poland.

But in his only electoral bid of note, Lewandowski ran for and badly lost a 2012 bid for town treasurer in his hometown.

Last fall, Lewandowski settled most of the issues about a testy property dispute in which he lodged a $5 million lawsuit over access to pond-front property in town, and neighbors in a counter suit tried to block Lewandowski from using an easement to get to his land.

Lewandowski declared victory after the couple fighting with him, Glenn and Irene Schwartz, moved out of the neighborhood and he achieved the aims of his original lawsuit.

What may have landed Lewandowski in hot water here was what he said at age 29 as the campaign manager for then-U.S. Sen. Bob Smith, R-N.H., about John E. Sununu, the governor’s older brother who went on to win that Senate seat in 2002.

The elder Sununu went to a fundraiser attended by the president of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, who had said after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that Osama bin Laden has seized on “legitimate grievances.”

“If that is the type of person Congressman Sununu feels should be contributing to his campaign, then I think that may call into question his views on terrorism,” Lewandowski said.

Then Republican Gov. Steve Merrill attacked Lewandowski’s comments saying, “The politics of ethnic slurs and bigotry have no place in any campaign.”

Lewandowski said the heated campaign exchange is long since forgotten and that he’s enjoyed close ties with the present and past governors named Sununu.

“I have a great relationship with both Governor Sununus, former Gov. John H. Sununu and current Gov. Chris Sununu,” Lewandowski said.

“Former Governor John Sununu is a terrific surrogate for this President on television, and we hope to have him be part of the Trump reelection campaign. Chris Sununu has been one of the nation’s finest governors, and I’d be honored to be on any ticket with him in 2020.”