On the Trail: Sununu no fan of effort to have NHGOP back Trump in 2020 primary

  • Gov. Chris Sununu celebrates his re-election victory on Nov. 6 in Manchester. AP

For the Monitor
Published: 12/13/2018 5:09:38 PM

Gov. Chris Sununu has close ties to the White House and is a supporter of President Donald Trump, but he doesn’t support efforts to have the state Republican Party back the president ahead of the 2020 primary.

Three of the president’s top supporters in the Granite State want the state party to drop its decades-old neutrality clause in order to back Trump if he has any GOP challengers in the primary. Sununu is no fan of the plan.

“Whether it’s a primary for the New Hampshire House or the White House, the New Hampshire State Republican Committee must remain neutral in primaries,” Sununu said in a statement Thursday.

“After hard-fought primaries, the state party is the vehicle to unite Republicans, and that is hard to accomplish if they try and tilt the scales for any candidate,” the governor said.

Before releasing his statement, Sununu spoke with Windham selectman Bruce Breton, one of the ring-leaders of the push and an early supporter of Trump’s 2016 campaign for president.

Breton, along with state Rep. Fred Doucette of Salem – a state co-chair of the 2016 Trump campaign – and state Rep. Al Baldasaro of Londonderry, a leading Granite State surrogate and adviser for the Trump campaign, may introduce an amendment to alter the New Hampshire GOP’s by-laws that keep the state party neutral in primaries, including the first-in-the-nation presidential primary.

Doucette told the Monitor that Trump’s “the sitting president, who’s the head of our party, and we should be endorsing and supporting him with everything we have in New Hampshire. It just makes sense.”

Baldasaro took aim at any Republican who would mount a challenge to Trump, calling such people “RINOS,” an acronym for “Republicans in name only.” He argued they “have no business going against a Republican president who is the leader of our party.”

Term-limited Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who came in second to Trump in the 2016 New Hampshire primary, is considering a 2020 primary challenge against the president. One of his biggest supporters and advisers in New Hampshire, former state attorney general Tom Rath, called the move to change the by-laws a bad idea.

“It will undercut the validity significantly of the primary,” Rath argued.

He warned that outsiders would use the move to try and strip the state of its first-in-the-nation status. “They are looking for any excuse to take it away and this kind of a move would tend to embolden those people,” Rath said.

Steve Duprey, the veteran Republican National Committee member from New Hampshire and a former longtime chairman of the state GOP, said he’s “unequivocally opposed” to dropping the neutrality clause.

He agreed it would threaten the state’s cherished century long tradition of holding the first primary in the race for the White House.

“The key reason we have the first-in-the-nation primary is that we can truthfully claim that every candidate has a fair shot,” Duprey said. “Maintaining the neutrality pledge is not anti-Trump. It’s about keeping the first-in-the-nation primary.”

“If we abandon the neutrality pledge, I think it would be very difficult to make the case that we deserve to be first,” added Duprey, who’s fought successfully for two decades to keep the state at the top of the political calendar.

Doucette disagreed.

“I don’t feel that the first-in-the-nation status is challenged in any way, shape, or form, because we’re still going to have a primary,” he said.

Outgoing interim NHGOP Chairman Wayne MacDonald said he doesn’t support the move to change the by-laws, and neither apparently does Steve Stepanek, the leading contender to succeed MacDonald as the next state party chairman.

Stepanek, who was co-chairman of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign in New Hampshire and touted his ties to the president as he tries to become party chairman, vows to remain neutral.

“In order to protect the New Hampshire first-in-the-nation primary, I am required and will be completely neutral if there is a primary challenge to the president because that’s the job,” he told the Monitor last month.

Doucette, as a state party committee member, has until Jan. 4 to introduce a by-law submission.

The amendment would then likely face a vote by the state committee membership (around 475 members) when they gather on Jan. 26 at the annual New Hampshire Republican State Committee meeting. A two-thirds majority of those attending the meeting is needed to pass an amendment altering the party’s by-laws.

N.H. helped Castroto decide on 2020

Julian Castro took a big step this week towards officially running for the White House.

The former San Antonio mayor who later served as Housing and Urban Development secretary under former president Barack Obama on Wednesday announced the formation of a presidential exploratory committee and added that he’d have a formal announcement on Jan. 12.

Castro, who made three trips to New Hampshire this year, told the Monitor that his interactions with Granite Staters helped him as he mulled launching a Democratic presidential nomination bid.

“I had a number of conversations with people each time that I was there that convinced me that the things I talked about, that people want a new generation of leadership, that they want somebody who’s trying to bring people together instead of tearing them apart, that we need to restore a sense of dignity and integrity to the White House, and fundamentally they want somebody with a strong vision for the future of our country,” he said.

The 44-year-old Castro emphasized that those conversations with Granite Staters “helped me think about taking this step.”

And as any smart presidential contender should do, he heaped praise on Granite Staters.

“It’s great in New Hampshire because people pay attention, they follow politics,” he said. “Folks are into it.”

Swalwell returns to N.H.

Congressman Eric Swalwell of California says he expects to decide on a presidential run as the calendar turns from 2018 to 2019.

But a second trip to New Hampshire in less than two months is sparking speculation that the 38-year old three-term Democrat is seriously eyeing a White House bid.

“It’s a big decision. But I would expect that decision would happen right at the turn of the year,” Swalwell told the Monitor in early November.

Swalwell returns to the state on Friday, for meetings and media interviews during a quick 24-hour visit. He’ll also stop by and mingle at the New Hampshire Young Democrats annual holiday party in Manchester.

“Swalwell has been interested in meeting with the New Hampshire Young Democrats for a while,” NHYD executive director Amelia Keane said. “I think Congressman Swalwell is curious to hear what the young people of New Hampshire care about.”

Young Dems push 2019State House priorities

The New Hampshire Young Democrats is joining forces with two other organizations that focus on younger voters to form a coalition to support and push for a “New Hampshire Youth Agenda.”

The two other groups are the New Hampshire Youth Movement and NextGen New Hampshire, the Granite State wing of the national grassroots organization founded by billionaire environmentalist, activists, and now-potential 2020 Democratic presidential contender Tom Steyer.

Their agenda they’ll try to advance in the 2019 state legislative session includes “building a tuition free higher education system, combating climate change with aggressive clean energy policies, and protecting the right to vote with modern and secure election reforms.”

Thanks to the result of last month’s elections, which saw a surge in the youth vote in New Hampshire, the incoming legislature will see a boost of younger lawmakers, including more 40 representatives under the age of 40.

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