A New Hampshire Senator's Reverse Midas Touch

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, right, with Sen. Judd Gregg in Bedford, N.H.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, right, with Sen. Judd Gregg in Bedford, N.H. (By Lm Otero -- Associated Press)
By Mary Ann Akers And Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, January 10, 2008

So much for the Judd Gregg endorsement primary.

For the third straight competitive New Hampshire presidential primary, Sen. Gregg (R-N.H.) has been the most sought-after endorsement among GOP candidates hoping to show their local bona fides to notoriously independent-minded voters.

And for the third straight primary, Gregg has backed a loser.

Tuesday night, Gregg had the task of ushering former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney onstage to claim another "silver medal," as the former head of the Winter Olympics likes to call his second-place finishes.

It was a bitter pill for Gregg, who endorsed Romney on Oct. 29, back when the next-door-neighbor presidential aspirant was flying high in the polls with double-digit leads over Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

Romney's campaign issued a release trumpeting news headlines hailing the endorsement as everything from a "big name" to "the prize get in New Hampshire."

His handlers should have checked with Gregg's past endorsees about his success rate.

In 2000, Gregg weighed in early with an endorsement of George W. Bush, who was clobbered in New Hampshire by upstart McCain. (That's 0-2 for Gregg against McCain, whose insurgent bid upended Romney on Tuesday.) And in 1996 Gregg backed Bob Dole, the Senate majority leader at the time, who lost to conservative commentator Pat Buchanan.

It's been 20 years since Gregg last backed a winner in a competitive New Hampshire primary, when he supported Bush's father.

The Romney camp happily noted Gregg's solid "track record for picking the eventual nominee," pointing to GOP victories by both Bushes and Dole. "He is also an important validator for any candidate who wants to send a clear message to economic conservatives that they're serious about lower taxes and cutting wasteful spending," said Kevin Madden, Romney's spokesman.

Gregg wasn't the only member of Congress with some political egg on his or her face from the voting in Iowa and New Hampshire. On stage with Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) in New Hampshire were the state's freshmen Democrats, Reps. Paul Hodes and Carol Shea-Porter, who bucked the establishment and backed the loser in their state.

And let's not forget Rep. Steven King's prescient endorsement of former Tennessee senator Fred Thompson in the GOP field just weeks before the Iowa caucuses. Thompson finished third, more than 20 percentage points behind former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee.

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