December 30, 2010


The Road to 2012: The New New Hampshire: Mitt Romney and the rest of the GOP field are about to find a whole new set of players standing between them and first-in-the-nation primary victory (DAVID S. BERNSTEIN, December 29, 2010, The Phoenix)

It's hard to overstate what happened in New Hampshire on election day this past November. If political analysts described the national election results as a Republican tsunami, what happened in the Granite State was of Noah-like proportions.

Both congressional seats flipped from blue to red. The State Senate turned from a 14-10 Democratic advantage to a stunning 19-5 GOP edge. And in the 400-member House of Representatives, Republicans gained a staggering 124 seats — going from a minority to the largest majority the party has ever held.

But perhaps the biggest upheaval may lie not in those ballot-box gains, but in two GOP departures. US Senator Judd Gregg chose not to run for re-election this year, and former governor John H. Sununu announced this month that he will step down as state party chairman.

"New Hampshire politics, for most people's memory, has been two dominant political parties," says James Pindell, WMUR-TV political director. "Not Democrat and Republican, but Sununu and Gregg."

To be sure, nobody expects those two to fade entirely into the background after three decades each as Granite State kingpins. But neither has the power of office behind their persuasion any more.

This convergence of the New Hampshire GOP's sudden surge in power and absence of leadership has set the stage for two epic battles so far, and a third unfolding, between the party establishment and the Tea Party–based conservative outsiders.

The first came in the September US Senate primary, when Gregg's hand-picked successor, Kelly Ayotte, barely squeaked out victory, by fewer than 2000 votes, over outsider choice Ovide LaMontagne.

The conservative outsiders prevailed in round two, however: the choice of new Speaker of the House of Representatives. The huge influx of new, primarily conservative members lifted third-term backbencher Bill O'Brien — formerly of Massachusetts, where in the early 1990s he was law partners with Tom Finneran — to a narrow win over long-time leadership member Gene Chandler for the position.

Now, the third battle is shaping up in the race to succeed Sununu as state party chairman. The establishment, including Sununu himself, is backing Cheshire County Republican Chair Juliana Bergeron. The insurgents, including O'Brien, are behind former gubernatorial candidate and Tea Party organizer Jack Kimball.

You can be sure the presidential contenders have a close eye on the outcome. But so far, they've been shy about taking sides.

It's easy to see why. Which do you want to offend, the Sununu machine, or the Tea Party voters?

A lot of people now expect the 2012 primary field to split into two early races.

New Hampshire Tea Partiers, in the afterglow of their 2010 success, are already looking for a conservative, populist candidate, says Andrew Hemingway, chair of the Republican Liberty Caucus, which endorsed more than 100 of the new Republican House members. "There's already been a shift in attention toward the presidential contest" among those activists, Hemingway says.

The state's establishment Republicans, on the other hand, will be looking for a more mainstream, electable candidate — one they hope will benefit from the large number of independents expected to vote in the Republican primary, with Obama's re-nomination a foregone conclusion.

It's not at all clear, however, which "influencers," if any, hold the key to those two paths.

We almost always pick the same guy, conservative enough but extremely experienced and from the mainstream of the Party:

2008 Senator John McCain
2004 President George W. Bush
2000 Senator John McCain
1996 Pat Buchanan
1992 President George H. W. Bush
1988 Vice President George H. W. Bush
1984 President Ronald Reagan
1980 Governor Ronald Reagan
1976 President Gerald R. Ford
1972 President Richard Nixon
1968 former Vice President Richard M. Nixon
1964 Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr.
1956 President Dwight D. Eisenhower
1952 General Dwight D. Eisenhower
1948 Governor Harold Stassen

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Posted by Orrin Judd at December 30, 2010 5:30 AM
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