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Former U.S. senator Bob Smith kicks off comeback campaign in N.H.

Last modified: 3/6/2014 12:40:14 AM
Former U.S. senator Bob Smith is ready for a comeback, and he’s using a familiar set of Republican ideas – shrink government, repeal Obamacare – to make his case. But, as a politician who’s been out of government for a dozen years, he’s also presenting himself as a political outsider who can take on Washington.

“Washington is broken, out of control, and I’m prepared – that’s why I’m here – to make whatever personal sacrifices it may take to wrest it from the insiders, from the establishment of both political parties, to put it back into the hands of the people,” Smith said yesterday to a small crowd in Concord.

“They’ll be personal, they’ll be vicious, and they’ll stop at nothing to retain their power. . . . This is a war, between them and us.”

Smith, 72, represented New Hampshire in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1985 to 1990 and then in the Senate from 1990 to 2002. He’s now hoping to challenge U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, to win that Senate seat back. He filed to run in December but officially kicked off his campaign yesterday with a speech focusing on what he sees as Washington’s problems and his plans to fix them. Republicans Jim Rubens and Karen Testerman also hope to challenge Shaheen, and former U.S. senator Scott Brown, who represented Massachusetts, may jump in the race.

Smith left elected office in 2003 on rocky footing with many state Republicans. In 2000, he ran for president under three different banners and at one point denounced the Republican Party for its lack of principle on the Senate floor. That left a sour taste in many Republicans’ mouths, and John E. Sununu beat him in the 2002 primary.

“It’s probably pretty safe to say that the press never thought we’d be doing this together again,” Smith said. “It’s been a long time, but the feeling is mutual – I didn’t expect to be here either.”

He moved to Florida but kept his home in Tuftonboro. Down south, he filed to run for Senate in 2004 and 2010, but said yesterday that neither of those were serious runs. Smith endorsed Democrat John Kerry in the 2004 presidential race, a move he’s since apologized for and called a mistake.

“It was a stupid thing to do. I got angry and I acted in anger,” he said. “If there are those who believe that’s the defining moment . . . and they feel that they can’t support me, I respect it completely.”

But Smith is looking to the future rather than the past. During his speech, he outlined nine challenges he believes the country is facing. Popular Republican talking points such as the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups, the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012 and the president’s health care law came up several times.

The federal government has become too big a bureaucracy, and the “insiders game” needs to end, Smith said. If elected, he said he’d push for the Congressional Budget Office to determine the cost of each bill before a vote. Federal judges who legislate from the bench are also contributing to the big-government problem, Smith said, and he’d introduce legislation creating term limits.

On foreign and domestic policies, Smith said the country needs to end illegal immigration and showcase “peace through strength” to the rest of the world, borrowing a line from President Ronald Reagan, whose name Smith evoked several times. Smith served on the Senate Armed Services Committee for 12 years.

The Obama administration has put forth a foreign policy “that has emboldened our enemies and frankly confused and alienated our own allies,” he said.

Shrinking the federal government and keeping it out of Americans’ personal lives are also key pieces of Smith’s message. All federal agencies should be required to prove why they are necessary every two years, Smith said, and the government should slash taxes on individuals and businesses. If elected, Smith said he would sponsor a balanced budget amendment.

The government should have no place in people’s private lives, Smith said. He called for an end to the IRS targeting specific political groups, domestic spying by the National Security Agency and limits on Americans’ Second Amendment rights. Obamacare has proved that federal involvement in health care doesn’t work, Smith said.

“Freedom, healthy markets and healthy people go hand in hand,” he said.

Abortion is the one social issue Smith included in his platform, restating his pro-life stance.

Smith declined to comment on his Republican competitors, including Brown, saying it is up to the voters to decide who they like best. But he did say he is “battle tested” in Washington.

“The question really boils down to this: Which candidate can show a clear delineation, a clear difference between his or herself and the other side?” Smith said.

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or or on Twitter @kronayne.)


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