Capital Beat: Rubens, Smith spar in effort to become top Brown challenger
UPDATE: The second paragraph of this story has been updated to clarify Jim Rubens’s view of the Fairness Doctrine.
Bob Smith and Jim Rubens each say with confidence that he will win the Republican nomination to challenge U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen this November. But from the outside looking in, it sure looks like they’re in a scrappy fight for second place.
The two did a bit of sparring this week after the consultant for a pro-Rubens super PAC suggested Rubens would have an easier time beating Scott Brown if Smith were to drop out. Smith, in response, had his campaign manager send out a press release calling on Rubens to drop out. A back and forth ensued on Twitter over whether Rubens supported the Fairness Doctrine, which Rubens said he never did, then Smith called Rubens “Scott Brown lite.”
Both candidates scoff at the notion that they’re not in a position to beat Brown. (“We can cite polls, but my poll is out on the ground every day talking to people,” Smith says. Rubens, meanwhile, says he’ll coast to victory on the sentiment of people who are sick of career politicians.) But this week’s actions make one thing clear: Both men wish the other would just quit already. The chances of that happening, though, are slim to nonexistent.
“It’s total nonsense to even insinuate that I would drop out of the race,” Smith said this week. “I’m not dropping out, period. And I’m not going to answer any more questions about it.”
Rubens, he claims, called on him to drop out of the race first. According to Smith, Rubens’s “people” have been coming up to him at events and asking him to drop out for months.
Not so, says Team Rubens. His campaign has sent out numerous press releases calling the contest a “two-man race,” but Rubens said he isn’t part of an effort to ask Smith to drop out.
“We’re not organizing any effort to get him to drop out of the race,” he said. “Conservatives are concerned about the conservative vote being split, I know that. But we’re not organizing any of my people to make any such request to Bob Smith.”
Rubens said it’s overblown to suggest the two are in any type of argument beyond typical primary sparring.
Observers and political strategists agree that Brown is likely to win the primary (his $2.34 million in second quarter fundraising is more than 100 times what Rubens and Smith raised, combined), but he is by no means a perfect candidate. Recent polling shows that while 80 percent of New Hampshire voters know who Brown is, more people see him in a negative light than a positive one. That means the race for Brown is now about changing minds, not introducing himself.
Rubens is hanging his hopes on the fact that only 17 percent of voters, per the same poll, say they’ve decided who to vote for. He’s been campaigning since May of 2013, but 77 percent of people say they don’t know enough about him to have an opinion. He said he plans to go up with television advertisements but wants to wait until closer to the election (most of his campaign money is his own).
Smith, for his part, has some residual name ID from his former New Hampshire political life as a member of Congress from 1985 to 2002. Smith says voters are looking for a candidate like him because he supports the Republican Party platform “100 percent.” Last month, fellow conservative Karen Testerman even ended her bid in an effort to unite right-wing voters behind Smith.
But both men have complicated relationships with the party that make it harder to convince a sizable bloc of Republicans to coalesce around them. Smith famously left the party in 1999 to run for president on a third-party line, which in part caused him to lose the Republican primary in his 2002 Senate re-election bid. His anger from that loss led him to endorse John Kerry in 2004. He’s since apologized and has tried to put it all behind him, saying his record now makes him the conservative candidate, but there are a lot of Republicans in New Hampshire who have just plain ill will toward Smith.
Rubens, who calls himself the only completely “pro-liberty,” candidate has some positions that don’t square with the platform. For example, he’s in favor of gay marriage and pro-choice. He also strongly believes in man-made climate change, but says the key to tackling it is eliminating government regulations and letting entrepreneurs find new energy solutions. He also tried to build a third party in the early 90s and described himself as a radical centrist.
In other words, neither Rubens nor Smith is an ideal candidate to provide an alternative to Brown. Both, however, are certain to work hard right up until primary day trying.
Brown certainly won’t mind if they keep throwing punches at each other along the way.