Tea party fig­ure to lead N.H. GOP

Mitt Rom­ney tops pres­i­den­tial straw poll

The Washington Post Sunday - - POLITICS & THE NATION - BY FELICIA SONMEZ son­mezf@wash­post.com

New Hamp­shire Repub­li­cans chose a tea party ac­tivist as their leader Satur­day, re­ject­ing an es­tab­lish­ment can­di­date in a devel­op­ment that could help shape the course of the Gran­ite State’s firstin-the-nation Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial pri­mary in 2012.

Jack Kim­ball, a busi­ness­man with com­par­a­tively lit­tle po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence, edged out Cheshire County Repub­li­can Party Chair Ju­liana Berg­eron, who had the back­ing of most of the state’s in­flu­en­tial Repub­li­cans.

“We are in a war and we are go­ing to win it,” Kim­ball said at the party’s an­nual gath­er­ing in Derry. “We are go­ing to pull our­selves from the brink. We are go­ing af­ter the Democrats the whole time.”

The out­go­ing party chair­man, for­mer gover­nor John H. Su­nunu, had urged Repub­li­cans to back Berg­eron. “In­cum­bent on you is the re­spon­si­bil­ity — not just of keep­ing this party to­gether— but be­cause ev­ery four years, the world watches be­cause we are the most sig­nif­i­cant com­po­nent in pick­ing the pres­i­dent,” he said.

“We as a party need to pro­vide an en­vi­ron­ment that is com­fort­able for all can­di­dates to come and par­tic­i­pate,” Su­nunu said. “ The worst thing for the New Hamp­shire’s first-in-the-nation pri­mary is for peo­ple to feel this is not a place where they want to par­tic­i­pate.”

Kim­ball’s win was a boon for New Hamp­shire’s tea party ac­tivists af­ter sev­eral of their can­di­dates had fallen short in re­cent statewide races. Last year, in his first bid for pub­lic of­fice, Kim­ball placed a dis­tant sec­ond in the Repub­li­can gu­ber­na­to­rial pri­mary. An­other tea party fa­vorite, Ovide Lamontagne, came just shy of win­ning in the GOP pri­mary for the seat of for­mer sen­a­tor Judd Gregg (R).

James Pin­dell, the po­lit­i­cal di­rec­tor of Manch­ester’s WMURTV, called Kim­ball’s elec­tion “ highly sym­bolic,” not­ing that the new chair­man is “100 per­cent tea party.”

“For the last 30 years, there have two par­ties in New Hamp­shire: the Greggs and the Su­nunus,” Pin­dell said, re­fer­ring to two of the dy­nas­ties in state Repub­li­can pol­i­tics. Su­nunu is the fa­ther of for­mer sen­a­tor John E. Su­nunu (R), while Gregg, who re­tired this month, is the son of for­mer gover­nor Hugh Gregg (R).

Kim­ball, mean­while, was un­in­volved in pol­i­tics un­til the last pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

The party chair­man is barred from tak­ing sides in the state’s pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nat­ing con­test, ten­ta­tively sched­uled for Feb. 14, 2012, but Kim­ball has sug­gested that he’d like to use his bully pul­pit to in­flu­ence the con­test.

“ The state GOP chair­man should make it very clear to all the in­com­ing pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates that the peo­ple of the state of New Hamp­shire have just made a loud state­ment as to their de­sire for our party to get back to its con­ser­va­tive val­ues and stay there,” Kim­ball said in an in­ter­view this month with NHJour­nal.com.

Af­ter his win Satur­day, on a vote of 222 to 199, he said he would not back a par­tic­u­lar can­di­date. “It’s the folks that are go­ing to make those de­ter­mi­na­tions,” he said, ac­cord­ing to news re­ports. “It is the state GOP chair’s re­spon­si­bil­ity to re­main neu­tral and to make sure that there is an even play­ing field for all can­di­dates.”

Also at the an­nual gath­er­ing Satur­day, for­mer Mas­sachusetts gover­nor Mitt Rom­ney (R) took the top spot in a pres­i­den­tial straw poll, win­ning the sup­port of 35 per­cent of mem­bers. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) came in sec­ond with 11 per­cent, fol­lowed by for­mer Min­nesota gover­nor Tim Paw­lenty (R) with 8 per­cent, for­mer Alaska gover­nor Sarah Palin (R) with 7 per­cent and Rep. Michele Bach­mann (R-Minn.) with 5 per­cent.

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