N.H. Republican Party leaders try to figure out what went wrong in election
Charlie Bass; Friday, October 19, 2012.
(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »
In this June 28, 2012, photo, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks about the Supreme Court ruling on health care in Washington. Romney says he has a plan to help people with pre-existing medical conditions get health insurance. But theres a huge catch: You basically have to be covered in the first place. If you had a significant break in health insurance coverage, an insurer still could delve into your medical history. Common conditions _ from a bad back to high blood pressure _ could lead to denial. Compared to Romneys approach, President Barack Obamas health care law guarantees that people in poor health can get coverage at the same rates everybody else pays, and it provides financial help for low- to middle-income households. The law says that, starting Jan. 1, 2014, an insurer may not impose any pre-existing condition exclusion. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »
U.S. Rep. Charlie Bass spent two days this week driving around the state with his wife, picking up hundreds of orange-and-blue lawn signs bearing his name and tossing them into his truck.
“I just believe that the faster they are removed, the better it is for everyone, win or lose,” said Bass, a Peterborough Republican who lost his bid for an eighth term to Hopkinton Democrat Annie Kuster.
But for the Republicans this week, it was a lot more lose than win – both congressional seats went from Republicans to Democrats, the state House will now be controlled by Democrats, and the governor’s office will stay in Democratic hands.
All that’s caused a lot of introspection within the Republican Party, which could soon start picking new leaders.
“Nationally, Republicans just underachieved,” said former Republican Party chairman Fergus Cullen. “But in New Hampshire, we were obliterated.”
The top reasons the Democrats won, Republicans of all stripes said, was because Democrats crafted a better message and get-out-the-vote effort.
But whose fault is that?
Mitt Romney, many said.
“I really think this was a top-down driven election,” Bass said.
“If this had been an off-year election and President Obama wasn’t running, I don’t think the Democrats would have done as well,” said Steve Duprey, a national Republican committeeman and former state party chairman.
“I think it would have been very possible both congressmen would have been re-elected,” he said.
If you look at economic factors, some Republicans said, there’s no reason Obama should have won – a 7.9 unemployment rate is simply too high.
But Democrats framed a better message, they said.
“They just did a better job,” said conservative activist Andrew Hemingway, who started a political action committee to get a Republican elected governor.
“We never overcame the negative perception of Gov. Romney as an elitist,” said Wayne MacDonald, chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party.
“They were effective in making Republicans look like they were defending the rich and their rich friends, even though the vast majority of rich people support Democrats,” Bass said.
And some members of the party blame another high-profile Republican for the massive losses in the state: House Speaker Bill O’Brien.
“To say (the Legislature) didn’t play a factor would be ignoring some of the public relations issues over the last two years,” said Kevin Smith, the former head of the conservative advocacy group Cornerstone Action who lost to Ovide Lamontagne in the Republican gubernatorial primary.
“The negative public relations issues,” Smith said.
“This Republican Legislature did a fantastic job in terms of spending and taxes, but that message never got out because it was completely eclipsed by the state rep who dropped the gun on the floor of a committee hearing and the D.J. Bettencourt scandal and whether the elderly woman state rep was bullied by the speaker to tears,” Cullen said.
“I think Speaker O’Brien and the Republicans in the House and Senate . . . did as good a job as you could with the difficult hand they’d been dealt on the budget,” Duprey said. “And then they were perceived, particularly in the House, as overreaching and pushing too hard on some other issues.
Where everyone in the party seems to agree that high turnout for Obama harmed Republican candidates, they disagree on whether O’Brien is part of the problem.
Hemingway said the state party didn’t give O’Brien enough support.
“The state party should have and could have done a lot more than they did,” Hemingway said. “They should have had a presence in the press on a regular basis, talking to the voters in New Hampshire about why it is important to do the things that Bill O’Brien does.”
MacDonald said he defended O’Brien but conceded his party could do a better job getting its message out. The party used to have a full-time person communications director but no longer does. Things like a website – which hadn’t been updated in the month prior to the election – suffered.
MacDonald also said the state party can’t prevent individual members from filing unpopular bills.
“In a large diverse body like the New Hampshire House, 400 members, (from) every area of the state, there is going to be some legislation that comes out that’s kind of wacky, I suppose,” he said.
Republicans maintain that their party has a winning message on lower taxes and limited government but runs into problems when dealing with social issues. Duprey, for example, supports abortion rights and gay marriage. Those are the true Republican positions, he said.
“I think we need to get much better at marketing our product,” Duprey said. “We need to be careful to make sure that people know that people like me who are pro-choice and pro gay rights are welcome.”
So did the Republicans lose because their positions are wrong? Or because they don’t get the word out about their positions well enough?
Jennifer Horn, who said she’s considering a run to be party chairwoman, said that’s a matter for discussion. The party activities and the party leader needs to talk “internally,” she said, before anything is presented “externally.”
“The party needs to regroup,” she said.
She, Duprey and others said Republicans as whole are responsible for their losses this week and that finger-pointing isn’t helpful. But it’s important not to overreact they said, and the party will survive.
“I am extremely confident that we will return Republican leadership to Concord,” Horn said.
Republican National Committeeman Steve Duprey credits President Obama’s campaign with using sophisticated data collection to help the entire Democratic ticket do well on Election Day. A story in Saturday’s paper incorrectly implied that he blamed Mitt Romney for Republican losses.