On the Trail: Bill O’Brien hints at possible run for U.S. Senate

  • FILE - In this Wednesday Dec. 1, 2010, file photo Republican William O'Brien of Mont Vernon, N.H. starts the legislative session as speaker of the House in Concord, N.H. Following the Tuesday Nov. 4, 2014 elections, Republicans have regained the majority of the 400 member body and two former Republicans, House speakers Bill O'Brien and Gene Chandler are competing to once again lead New Hampshire's House.(AP Photo/Jim Cole/FILE) Jim Cole

  • In this Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2014 photo, former Speaker Rep. Bill O'Brien walks back to his seat after loosing his bid to become Speaker for the next session, at the Statehouse in Concord, N.H. O’Brien was chosen by his Republican caucus to become Speaker, but in an upset was beaten by Rep. Shawn Jasper when the full House voted. The upset has brought an ongoing fight that is bringing negative attention to the party's newly won majority and could jeopardize its ability to pass Republican legislation. (AP Photo/Jim Cole) Jim Cole

For the Monitor
Published: 6/27/2019 4:04:38 PM

He’s still about a month away from likely announcing a Republican bid for U.S. Senate, but former state House of Representatives speaker Bill O’Brien is already contrasting himself with retired Army Brig. Gen. Don Bolduc, who launched his GOP Senate campaign Monday.

O’Brien, who remains popular and influential among Granite State conservatives, told the Monitor on Thursday that he’s “not going to characterize other candidates.”

But in what appeared to be a jab at Bolduc – who’s running for public office for the first time following more than three decades in the military – the former speaker added that “the concern that I think anyone of us would have in putting a person into office in Washington who doesn’t have a political track record.”

O’Brien – who said he anticipates he’ll launch his campaign when he makes a July 23 announcement – explained that “the very reason I’m running is I have too often watched congressional candidates who make these promises without any sort of political record to back it up and then they go down there (D.C.) and they disappoint us.”

He added that “I know I won’t be that person.”

Bolduc, a Laconia native who moved back to New Hampshire after retiring from the Army, emphasized on Monday that he’s running because he’s “ticked off” at the partisan sniping in our nation’s capital.

“Why can’t the people in Washington, D.C., get it right? Well, because they’re the wrong people,” Bolduc said.

“I want everyone to understand that I respect Sen. Jeanne Shaheen for her decades in the political arena but she has been part of the failed leadership in Congress and it is time for a change,” Bolduc said of the two-term incumbent Democrat and former governor who’s running for a third term representing New Hampshire in the Senate.

Bolduc also made clear in an interview with the Monitor that he supports Republican President Donald Trump.

“The President of the United States I fully support,” he said. “Now, I don’t hang on every word the president says, but the question we should asking is how we should be supporting the president to make him successful because if he’s successful, America’s successful.”

O’Brien, who was a top Granite State supporter for conservative Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas in the 2016 GOP first-in-the-nation presidential primary, said, “I 100% back Trump now for the very reason I supported Sen. Cruz. He has developed a track record for standing up for conservative values and that was very, very important to me and I think it should be very important to all conservatives looking at this race.”

And taking what appeared to be another direct shot at his likely primary opponent, O’Brien emphasized that “it’s very easy having spent time not being in a legislature and having to vote on bills. Not having to make decisions, such as I did as speaker, that are not popular on the left and having to take the blowback because of that. If you haven’t gone through that, it’s very easy to say, ‘well, I will be a conservative.’ ”

But O’Brien also said that “my race will be about Bill O’Brien, not about any of the other candidates.”

He then touted his tenure as speaker at the beginning of this decade in reducing the massive budget deficit and said he “made promises that I wouldn’t raise taxes and kept those promises.”

Attorney Bryant “Corky” Messner is also considering a Republican Senate bid.

Prelude to gubernatorial battle

A two-year, $13 billion state budget is on its way to the corner office after the Democratic-controlled state House and Senate passed it along party lines on Thursday.

The budget now faces an all-but-certain veto from Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, who opposes the budget’s rollback of planned business tax cuts. Sununu recently emphasized that Granite Staters “will not accept tax increases, nor should they.”

But Democrats, led in part by state Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes, say the budget takes on the Granite State’s most pressing problems, including mental health care and the opioid epidemic.

The budget battle appears to be a preview of a possible gubernatorial showdown between Sununu and Feltes.

The two-term governor announced his 2020 re-election bid earlier this year and Feltes, the Democrat from Concord, is likely to launch a gubernatorial campaign later this year.

“I think this is absolutely the first shot in the prelude to an announcement of a Feltes run for governor,” noted Wayne Lesperance, political science professor and vice president of academic affairs at New England College.

Lesperance added that some of the language used by Feltes to describe the budget – words like “families” and “promises kept” – are “very much campaign language.”

And he predicted that “you can imagine Feltes taking this veto as a tool or a vehicle to announce a candidacy to do right by education, small businesses, about care for those who have needs. The themes are all baked in.”

Lesperance argued that “for both, this is about the base.”

Turning to the governor, he emphasized that describing the business taxes as an increase could pay off.

“He’s taken a very purist perspective on taxes and is consistent with what most Granite Staters say and certainly his base,” he noted.

Feltes, of course, isn’t the only Democrat likely to launch a bid for governor.

Two-term Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky of Concord reiterated to the Monitor in April that he’s eyeing a bigger political footprint.

“I’m seriously considering a run for governor in 2020,” he said.

And he highlighted at the time that he’s “making phone calls and contacts. That’s going well.”

Volinsky, general counsel at the Bernstein Shur law firm in Manchester, was for years best known in the Granite State as the lead attorney for the victorious plaintiff school districts in the historic Claremont school district funding lawsuit two decades ago.

Former state senator Molly Kelly of Harrisville, the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial nominee, hasn’t ruled out another run. She lost to Sununu by seven percentage points in last November’s election.

Former Portsmouth mayor Steve Marchand, who ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2016 and 2018, appears to be entertaining a third bid.

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