CONCORD — Republicans are doing some serious soul searching in the wake of a disastrous midterm election last Tuesday in which first-term Gov. Chris Sununu was the lone prominent survivor.
Sununu is New Hampshire’s first Republican governor since the Civil War to be reelected but have the Democrats holding all other levels of influence in state government.
Every single Democratic governor over those 150 years has presided over a divided government at some point in their term.
In the days following the election, the finger-pointing and blame game was already in overdrive.
Former Senate Majority Leader and lobbyist Bob Clegg of Hudson ran for the 2nd Congressional District seat in 2008.
“Republicans are energized but no longer will we watch the NHGOP decide in a back room who is a good candidate and who should lose to a Democrat,” Clegg said.
“It can’t be fixed by regurgitating the same people to the head of the party when they are instrumental in its division and its demise. The members deserve better.”
Clegg said he wouldn’t rule out an internal revolt. Disaffected activists might actually go out and form a splinter party if the leadership ignores them, Clegg warned.
“If the party doesn’t fix itself and do what needs to be done there will be a new Republican Party,” Clegg said.
Former State Rep. John Gibson of Merrimack was one of many angry voices on a Facebook debate that spawned hundreds of comments over a 36-hour period.
Gibson said the GOP must steal the script Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley and predecessor Kathy Sullivan used to turn the minority apparatus into a fundraising and ground-game juggernaut.
“Here is a reality,” Gibson said. “NH politics changed forever on Tuesday and it went professional. To take back both chambers of the Legislature will take over $1.5 million, plus a full-time staff with a war room at the NHGOP ready to go toe to toe with the Buckley propaganda machine.”
Not a fair money fight
Before the election, the Union Leader reported nine state Senate Democratic hopefuls had raised $1.3 million while their GOP incumbent foes couldn’t get to $400,000.
Kimberly Morin, a vocal conservative activist, was very unhappy one of those new Democratic faces, Brentwood Democrat Jon Morgan, was her senator-elect after narrowly upsetting one-term Sandown Republican Bill Gannon.
“I can’t tell you how furious I am that I have that left-wing, arrogant, loon, elitist man as my senator now and I hold the NH GOP 100 percent responsible for that,” Morin wrote.
Later Morin posted, “If the party isn’t completely re-vamped within the next 6 months with new leadership, new organization and new LIFE, it is over.”
The fiscally conservative Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy on Friday summed up what an unfair fight it was when it came to campaign cash.
All told, Democrats outraised Sununu and GOP committees by more than $3 million. Comparing just party-to-party committees, the Democrats had a 5-1 advantage, the Josiah Bartlett report concluded.
“When New Hampshire was more red than purple, Republicans didn’t need to spend a lot to convince voters to support them,” wrote Drew Cline, the center’s executive director. “With New Hampshire having become more competitive, failing to close the gap will make winning legislative majorities more challenging.”
The GOP has precious little time to mend what ails with the 2020 presidential campaigns looming.
The silver lining is a timetable in which the membership of the Republican State Committee picks a new chairman in late January. Incumbent Wayne MacDonald of Derry took over a party last July that had $650 in the bank, $14,000 in bills and $48,000 in long-term debts.
“This isn’t any one person’s fault, especially Wayne, who was handed a bag of crap at the 11th hour,” posted Jon DiPietro, a conservative activist from Manchester. “But we had better get it fixed. There’s a presidential election in two years and it’s going to be here in the blink of an eye.”
MacDonald will decide in a week or so whether he’ll seek a two-year term.
“I hope those in the party realize whatever I do has always been in the best interest of the party and not myself. It is very challenging,” MacDonald said in an interview.
“The Democrats wanted to convert New Hampshire. The challenge both nationally and here is we want to get it back and keep it, and that certainly needs to be the focus.”
Former State Rep. Steve Stepanek of Amherst, Trump’s 2016 NH campaign co-chairman, is seriously considering a bid for the chairmanship and will make up his mind in about a week.
“What I think happened was we were outgunned, the Democrats out-raised us financially, they out-organized us. You name it, they did a better job,” Stepanek said.
“We didn’t have the resources or the organization to match what the Democrats did and that has got to change.”
Former Vice Chairman Matt Mayberry of Dover said he is also being encouraged by activists to look at the chairman’s race and he’s not ruled it out.
Sununu as kingmaker
Sununu should end up playing a kingmaker role, as he did 22 months ago when he handpicked Sen. Jeannie Forrester of Meredith, his 2016 GOP primary opponent, to replace Jennifer Horn of Nashua.
Forrester left the party post last summer to take a municipal job.
Longtime GOP strategist Mike Dennehy didn’t mince words on what the stakes are now.
“If New Hampshire Republicans don’t figure out fundraising, they can kiss this state goodbye,” Dennehy said.
Jim Merrill, twice the architect of Mitt Romney’s two N.H. presidential campaigns, believes redemption must start with paying the next chairman.
“I do think if you pay the chairman then you would ensure that person is devoting 24-7 to the cause. It is a lot to ask for someone to do it as a volunteer,” Merrill said.
“There are a lot of people who could serve in that role but can’t unless they get paid to do it.”
As former vice chairman, MacDonald chaired a compensation committee after the state GOP convention in early 2017 had changed its bylaws to permit the chairman to be paid.
“For months I have been reaching out to more out-of-state donors and organizations to help us. If we can improve on our fundraising we could make the chair someone who works on a commission basis or a salary plus or minus to draw upon,” MacDonald said.
Those working for defeated congressional candidates Eddie Edwards of Dover and Steve Negron of Nashua also said the national and state GOP let them down.
“I am not blaming anyone, but the New Hampshire Republican Party better look within,” said Mike Biundo, Edwards’ chief campaign consultant. “Until we have a full-time effort that begins to mirror the Democrats’ here, you are spotting them points and starting at a disadvantage. The (Republican National Committee) ground game here was impressive for its size and was led by people I respect, but being outgunned, outmanned and outspent every cycle makes things harder than they need to be.”
Former House Speaker Shawn Jasper of Hudson, now the state’s commissioner of agriculture, thinks the GOP needs to return to the “big tent” of Ronald Reagan with its supporters spending less time attacking one another.
“I am fairly sure that there is no one reason that Republicans lost. My first thought is that Republicans spend too much time beating up on other Republicans who don’t conform to their idea of ‘perfect,’ ” said Jasper, who was accused of being a House leader who wasn’t partisan enough.
“My next thought is too few Republicans recognize that a candidate who can win in one district may not be able to win in another. I think that we need to learn that if all Republican candidates have to come from one mold then we will lose more often than we will win.”