Candidate profile: Jim Rubens says he’s not the ‘establishment’s candidate’
Jim Rubens speaks during a meeting with the the "Monitor" early last month.
Jim Rubens at Monitor ed board (GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)
Jim Rubens promises “bold solutions.”
That phrase has been the guiding principle of the Hanover Republican’s bid for U.S. Senate ever since he jumped into the race last September, months before his competitors Scott Brown and Bob Smith. He has outlined his ideas on issues ranging from campaign finance reform to energy policy and has presented in-depth plans where his opponents largely have not.
“If you’re not going to do it during a campaign, you’re not going to do it in office,” Rubens said.
Throughout his 15-month campaign, Rubens, 64, has also painted himself as an alternative to what he calls the “bought-and-paid” career politicians picked by the state’s Republican establishment. He touts the fact that he doesn’t fit the mold. And he is trying to use his “anti-business-as-usual” message to attract voters across the party spectrum who are united in their frustration with Washington gridlock, corruption and out-of-touch politicians.
“At the outset I knew that I would not be the establishment’s candidate because I never have been,” Rubens said over breakfast at a Hollis diner this week in between back-to-back campaign stops. “I never will be because I am out to fix problems.”
The primary is Tuesday.
Life and career
Rubens launched his political career in 1994 when he beat the state Senate president in a three-way Republican primary and went on to win the general election.
During two terms as a senator he championed the passage of the state’s SB2 law, an alternative to town meeting that allows ballot voting. He also wrote the state’s charter school legislation.
Campaign Communications Director Brian Tilton said the most touching moment on the campaign trail was when Rubens visited Robert Frost Charter School in North Conway.
“You said, ‘It was so nice to see what I started,’ ” Tilton said, as Rubens nodded.
“It was extremely emotional,” Rubens said. “That is really what I want to do in Washington; I want to do things with that kind of power to lift up lives.”
In 1998, Rubens ran for governor but lost in the Republican primary before he could face Democratic incumbent Jeanne Shaheen. (Should he win this primary, he would face Shaheen – the incumbent – in the general election.) Since then, he has remained active in politics, leading the Granite State Coalition Against Expanded Gambling and consulting for the Union of Concerned Scientists. Unlike both of his primary opponents, Rubens has never served in the U.S. Senate.
But he points to his long history in New Hampshire, where he has lived for 40 years. Rubens attended Dartmouth College, and since the 1980s has lived in Hanover, where he and his wife, Susan, raised their son, Matthew. Outside of politics, he has started several businesses.
Rubens’s campaign platform centers on rolling back government regulations and giving more control to the free market. On the Affordable Care Act, he proposes repealing and replacing it in favor of market-based solutions including negotiating lower pharmaceutical prices and combating fraud within the Medicare and Medicaid programs to keep prices low. He supports gun rights and shutting down the Department of Education. Earlier this year, the Republican Liberty Caucus endorsed Rubens.
Rubens breaks with some of the more traditional party stances on issues such as climate change. He is the only candidate in the race that firmly believes it is entirely man-made, and he said he wants to end all government energy subsidies to let the free market develop new, clean energy sources. Early on, Rubens supported a carbon tax, but he has since dismissed the idea after determining it would be “dead on arrival.”
A large piece of his platform is campaign finance reform. He advocates for a public financing system for candidates who choose it and a public database that keeps track of political contributions in real time. MayDay PAC, a group aimed at getting big money out of politics, has spent nearly $1 million supporting Rubens through television and radio ads.
“We can’t find any other Republican who has been open about it,” Lawrence Lessig, MayDay PAC co-founder and Harvard Law professor, told the Monitor in July. “Rubens has earned a special place as a leader.”
Rubens’s campaign has raised roughly $82,000 so far. He hasn’t put out any television ads himself, but he has released some radio ads and said the recent media blitz has helped boost his name recognition. “People seem to know me everywhere I go in the last month, where they didn’t before,” Rubens said.
But, that hasn’t translated in poll numbers. He remains largely unknown in the state, according to the most recent poll released by the UNH Survey Center.
He dismissed the poll as an “aberration.”
Rubens’s campaign message may not be resonating widely because it doesn’t fit into the state’s current political debate, said Wayne Lesperance, a political science professor at New England College.
“His campaign is one of the most authentic efforts at trying to have a different kind of appeal,” Lesperance said. But change happens slowly and voters can be risk averse, Lesperance said. And right now, Rubens’s message isn’t fitting. The divide in New Hampshire isn’t between progressive and conservative Republicans, he said. It is between the traditional establishment and more conservative Republicans.
Some Republicans have a pragmatic view of the race, Lesperance said, and the numbers tell them Scott Brown is the guy to beat Shaheen. “Brown and Shaheen are already running against each other. For them, primary is a foregone conclusion,” he said.
That is exactly what Rubens’s supporters are fighting against.
“I am tired of voting for second-best,” said Rep. Laurence Rappaport, a Colebrook Republican who has known Rubens for the past several years and endorsed him this spring. Rappaport said he expects Brown to win because the party leaders have picked him.
“Scott Brown, frankly, is half the man that Jim Rubens is,” he said. “I really want to get someone good in there, somebody willing to stand up for his principles and not compromise at the slightest opposition (that) occurs.”
Ruth Griffin, a former executive councilor from Portsmouth, said she’s not sure why Rubens’s message hasn’t been resonating with more voters.
“I find it distressing,” she said.”I just hope people in this last week are going to hear what Jim Rubens has to say. . . . I just hope they catch the message.”
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated Rubens’ response to a recent UNH poll. Rubens called the poll an aberration.
(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.)