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Sununu: Democrats won election by turning out voters who are dependent on government

Last modified: 1/29/2013 11:11:01 AM
President Obama and the Democrats won last month’s election because they were able to turn out voters who are dependent on the government, former New Hampshire governor and Mitt Romney adviser John H. Sununu said last night.

“They aggressively got out the base of their base, the base of their base that’s dependent, to a great extent economically, on government policy and government programs,” Sununu said during a forum with two other Republican former governors, Steve Merrill and Craig Benson, at Concord’s Grappone Conference Center.

For example, Sununu said, Democrats ran up big majorities in some parts of Cleveland in the key swing state of Ohio, while Republicans got only a handful of votes there.

“It was not because of message. It was not because of message,” Sununu said. “It was because of political organization, political unity, joining together across a broad spectrum of different views within the Democratic Party, and presenting a perception of what they were going to do in a way that was absolutely attractive to their base.”

Sununu, who was a top media surrogate for Romney during the presidential campaign, spoke during a fundraising-and-awards dinner hosted by the conservative Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy.

His comments echoed controversial remarks made by Romney before the Nov. 6 election, when the GOP nominee told donors that 47 percent of voters would support Obama because they depend on government, and after the election, when Romney said Obama won by giving “gifts” to voting blocs like young people and Hispanics. Romney’s statements were widely criticized by Democrats and some Republicans.

Sununu, Merrill and Benson all offered their thoughts last night on Republican losses in last month’s election, and the path going forward for the party.

“I agree with everything that John said,” Merrill said, adding that he believes the 2012 election was about “the cult of the personality” as much as anything else.

“Certainly Barack Obama did not get re-elected based on his performance. . . . But his personality, particularly in campaign mode, was something that they liked and that they were attracted to, and that helped drive that base,” Merrill said.

Benson said the GOP could have better connected with voters by making clear the stark differences between Democrats, who “believe in a nanny state,” and Republicans, who believe in the power of the individual to achieve prosperity.

“For those people that believe that the government can do a better job, here’s what they do a better job of: They get people addicted, in some cases, to the fact that maybe they don’t need to go out and make their own future. They get people addicted to the idea that maybe they can’t do something on their own. And there’s no worse fate for anybody in this world than to think that they can’t do something magnificent with their life,” Benson said. “So what the Democratic Party does is, it takes people’s dreams away, period.”

The solution, Sununu said, is not for people to try to take New Hampshire’s Republican Party further to the right, but to refocus on basic principles like frugality and local control.

As Merrill put it, “We need to get back to basics.”

Sununu served as New Hampshire’s governor from 1983 to 1989, then was White House chief of staff under President George H.W. Bush and later, from 2009 to 2011, chairman of the state Republican Party. Merrill, a former attorney general, was governor from 1993 to 1997. Benson won his sole term as governor in 2002, losing two years later to Democrat John Lynch, who will step down next month after four terms in office.

Their roughly 45-minute discussion last night was moderated by Kevin Smith, who ran for governor this year but lost in the Republican primary to Ovide Lamontagne, who in turn lost Nov. 6 to Democrat Maggie Hassan.

The three former governors discussed economic challenges during their terms, told jokes and reminisced about the controversial construction of the Seabrook Station nuclear power plant in the 1980s and the collapse, in 2003, of the Old Man of the Mountain in Franconia Notch.

They also discussed their greatest regrets in the corner office. Sununu said he was frustrated that the Seabrook plant wasn’t completed faster. Merrill said he failed to balance his work life and his personal life well. And Benson said he regretted not getting to serve longer.

The Josiah Bartlett Center last night presented its 2012 Libertas Award to retiring Executive Councilor Ray Wieczorek, a Manchester Republican stepping down after five terms on the five-member council, which reviews gubernatorial nominees and state contracts.

All three ex-governors had kind words for Wieczorek, and Sununu was expansive in his praise of the Executive Council itself.

“I am absolutely convinced that part of what makes New Hampshire so special is that council,” Sununu said. “And they do give us grief at times. They remind us we have to count to three. . . . But the fact is that in the long run, we have the most open state government of any state in the country – we may have the most open major government of anywhere in the world – and I think it’s primarily because of the council.”

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or bleubsdorf@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)


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