On the trail: Bill O’Brien’s new mission at the RNC

By PAUL STEINHAUSER

For the Monitor

Published: 03-25-2023 6:47 PM

Former New Hampshire House speaker Bill O’Brien says protecting the Granite State’s first in the nation presidential primary in the GOP nominating calendar will be his main mission as he joins the Republican National Committee (RNC).

O’Brien, a conservative firebrand who made plenty of headlines during his tumultuous term steering the state House of Representatives a dozen years ago, was overwhelmingly elected by the New Hampshire GOP’s executive committee Monday as the state’s newest RNC committee member.

He joins Juliana Bergeron as one of New Hampshire’s two committee members on the RNC as he replaces Chris Ager, who stepped down from the post after winning election as state party chair and succeeded former chair Steve Stepanek.

“Working on the first-in-the-nation primary, participating and strengthening the primary process for 2024 in New Hampshire, and then preparing the ground for a Republican victory in 2024 in New Hampshire” are his top priorities going forward, O’Brien told the Monitor.

While the Democratic National Committee earlier this year upended its traditional primary calendar, by moving South Carolina ahead of New Hampshire and putting the Granite State on the day as Nevada in the 2024 nominating schedule, the RNC isn’t messing with tradition. New Hampshire – which for a century’s held the first presidential primary, will follow the Iowa caucuses in the GOP calendar, as it’s done for five decades. Despite the decree from national Democrats, New Hampshire will still go first as a result of a state law that orders the Secretary of State to move voting here ahead of any other state.

O’Brien praised past efforts by Bergeron, Stepanek, and Ager to keep New Hampshire’s cherished primary position and “in solidifying it for Republicans in 2024.”

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But he said the effort may not be over.

“We have to continue that conversation and make sure the RNC never forgets” the importance of New Hampshire and its brand of retail politics.

He said he’s willing to help Democrats achieve the same goal.

“I personally will reach out to Democrats within the state to see if they want to work with us locally to continue to protect the New Hampshire first-in-the-nation primary,” added O’Brien, who ran unsuccessfully for the 2020 GOP U.S. Senate nomination.

O’Brien was a top Granite State supporter for conservative Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas in the 2016 GOP first-in-the-nation presidential primary. But as an RNC member, he’ll stay neutral in the burgeoning 2024 Republican nomination race, which already includes former President Donald Trump.

“We have to make sure that we present to these candidates an open and fair primary for all of them, giving them all an opportunity to be heard and that we don’t weigh in for one or the other,” he said.

He pointed towards what he called a “fantastic group” of announced and likely candidates and stressed that “we want to make sure they have a fair shot here in New Hampshire.”

Who is on their way to N.H.?

Former Republican Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey returns to New Hampshire on Monday, sparking more speculation that he’s moving towards launching a second White House run.

The former two-term governor who unsuccessfully ran for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination and who’s considered one of the best communicators in the GOP, has repeatedly said for well over a year that he’s “thinking” about making another bid for the White House in 2024.

Christie will headline a town-hall style event at 5 p.m. on Monday at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics. For over two decades, the institute — which hosts the well-known “Politics and Eggs” speaker series — has been a must-stop for actual or potential White House contenders from both major parties. Christie traveled to New Hampshire to headline “Politics and Eggs” last April.

Following his town hall, Christie will gather with Granite State friends and supporters for a dinner.

Christie placed all his chips in his campaign for president seven years ago in New Hampshire. But Christie’s presidential campaign crashed and burned after a disappointing and distant sixth-place finish in New Hampshire, far behind Trump, who crushed the competition in the primary, boosting him towards the nomination and eventually the White House.

Christie became the first among the other GOP 2016 contenders to endorse Trump, and for years was a top outside adviser to the then-president. But the two had a falling out after Trump’s unsuccessful attempts to overturn his 2020 election loss to now-President Biden.

The former governor has become a very vocal Republican critic of Trump.

“I disagree with the premise that [the Republican Party is] dominated by Donald Trump. I don’t think that it is. What it’s dominated by are conservative principles that we want to stand for,” Christie told this reporter late last year.

“We want to win again. The problem here as you know is that we haven’t done much winning since 2016,” Christie said as he pointed to lackluster GOP results in the 2018, 2020, and 2022 elections. “It’s time to start winning again and that’s the kind of approach if I run that I would bring. We need to nominate someone who can win a general election. Not someone who will go down in flames in one.”

Christie isn’t the only Republican White House hopeful in the state next week.

Former ambassador to the United Nations and former two-term South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley returns to New Hampshire on Monday and Tuesday, to hold town halls in Dover and Salem.

Haley declared her candidacy for president last month at an event in her hometown of Charleston, South Carolina and immediately traveled to New Hampshire for two days of campaigning.

Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, who’s seriously mulling a White House run, will be in New Hampshire next month. The rising star in the GOP and the only Black Republican in the U.S. Senate visits New Hampshire on April 13, his first stop in the state this year.

Sununu’s latest 2024 hint

Gov. Chris Sununu has repeatedly said he’s considering a White House run.

Now, the Sununu-aligned Live Free or Die PAC on Thursday released a new video that spotlights the governor’s accomplishments and political philosophy.

The video, which the organization shared on social media, showcases Sununu’s economic successes and is jam-packed with shots of the governor on the campaign trail shaking hands and getting hugs.

“It’s gonna be a lot of fun,” Sununu says at the end of the ad, in an apparent tease of a potential 2024 campaign.

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