New Hampshire GOP faces Tea Party takeover
January 21st, 2011
05:00 AM ET
11 years ago

New Hampshire GOP faces Tea Party takeover

Manchester, New Hampshire (CNN) - New Hampshire Republicans had a banner year in 2010, electing a new U.S. Senator and two House members while taking back both houses of the state legislature.

But a rancorous fight for control of the party between establishment Republicans and insurgent newcomers aligned with the Tea Party is casting a pall over those gains and could impact the state's all-important presidential primary in 2012.

The drama began in December, when former Gov. John Sununu, a battle-tested veteran of Republican politics who presided over November's victories, announced he would not seek re-election as chairman of the state party.

Sununu then endorsed Cheshire County GOP Chairwoman Juliana Bergeron, a little-known figure among the party's rank-and-file, to succeed him at the state party's annual meeting, to be held this Saturday in Derry.

But Sununu's deep involvement in the race has bothered some of the 493 members of the New Hampshire Republican State Committee who, in typical Granite State fashion, bristle at being told how to vote.

"Somewhat like the Republican National Committee, there are some people on the state committee who don't like being told who to vote for," said one New Hampshire GOP elder. "There are some people who think that Sununu is trying to dictate to the committee, and they don't like it."

The establishment stamp of approval hardly endeared Bergeron to a newer generation of grassroots conservatives who take credit for re-energizing the Republican Party in 2010.

New Hampshire's Tea Party and libertarian forces are instead lined up behind Jack Kimball, a businessman and political newcomer who unsuccessfully sought the GOP nomination for governor last year.

The run helped Kimball develop a statewide following among Tea Party activists, and his backers say Kimball is in touch with the kind of small government voter sentiment that drove last year's historic GOP victories.

"Jack Kimball will support every liberty-minded candidate," said Merrimack County GOP Chairman Leigh MacNeil, a Kimball supporter. "I never heard of Juliana Bergeron until Gov. Sununu brought her forward. There is a worry in my mind that Bergeron could turn off a lot of the grassroots movement."

But Kimball's lack of fundraising experience and his blunt manner concern veteran New Hampshire Republicans as they prepare for the quadrennial onslaught of presidential candidates ahead of the state's first-in-the-nation presidential primary, currently slated for next February.

Kimball horrified party veterans last week after he told, a political news website, that he would apply a conservative litmus test when vetting candidates - a standard that could apply to presidential contenders and possibly force some to steer clear of the Granite State.

Kimball walked back the comments, but not without bringing down the wrath of Joseph McQuaid, the publisher of the New Hampshire Union Leader, who penned a Sunday editorial blasting Kimball for potentially jeopardizing the state's treasured role in the presidential nominating process.

"In the New Hampshire Presidential Primary, the party chairman's job is to welcome all Republican presidential hopefuls," the editorial read. "It is to make sure they know that the party will keep a level playing field and that the party chairman, in particular, stays neutral."

Kimball emailed backers Wednesday re-emphasizing his support for a neutral presidential primary. But he also fired back at his critics with a defiant "Fact Check" headlined: "Jack Kimball is NOT a three-eyed monster!"

"The numerous rumors, lies and innuendo directed at me have been beyond the pale," Kimball wrote in the email, provided to CNN by one committee member.

Kimball did not respond to interview requests, but Bergeron told CNN that the party needs an experienced veteran to maintain the momentum jump-started by Sununu.

"It's always good to bring new people in, and I welcome everybody to work with us," Bergeron said of Kimball and his supporters. "But he is fairly new to the Republican scene in New Hampshire and I'm not sure he completely understands how the party works, or what our structure is."

Republicans counting votes ahead of Saturday's election say that Bergeron has a narrow lead, but the outcome will depend on which supporters actually show up to the meeting.

Snow is forecast for Friday, and lower turnout usually favors the insurgent candidate - in this case, Kimball.

But turnout could be driven up by news this week that WMUR-TV and ABC News will be sponsoring a 2012 presidential straw poll at the meeting.

New Hampshire is alone among the four states kicking off the presidential nominating process in facing such an uncomfortable rift in the Republican ranks.

Iowa GOP Chairman Matthew Strawn easily cruised to re-election earlier this month. South Carolina is likely to have a contested chairmanship election in May, but the two candidates emerging as frontrunners both hail from the grassroots. And the Nevada Republican Party united behind a new chairman last March.

Filed under: 2012 • John Sununu • New Hampshire • Tea Party movement
soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. Mr. Tester

    Mutiny in the GOP guarantees a divided Republican Party, where Democrats win by default. You GOPers better stand together or fall flat on your faces.

    January 21, 2011 05:32 am at 5:32 am |
  2. A. Goodwin

    I'm from NH, and I can tell you that nomatter who leads the GOP in this state – they will be defeated by Democrats. The parallells between national polling and what we saw in November is very similar, and my guess is that the many independents in our state will be disinfranchised by that time. The article is very true to NH values – NOBODY tells us how to vote – nobody!

    January 21, 2011 08:20 am at 8:20 am |
  3. carrotroot

    I used to live in New Hampshire there are a bunch of nice folks up there, but from my prospective they are largely center-left libertarians who enjoy their back yard. If the Tea Party backed candidate lost in a year favorable to them, then I doubt he is going to stand a chance next election.

    January 21, 2011 08:39 am at 8:39 am |