Tea party figure to lead N.H. GOP

Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 23, 2011

New Hampshire Republicans chose a tea party figure as their leader Saturday, rejecting an establishment candidate in a development that could influence the state's first-in-the-nation Republican presidential primary in 2012.

In the race to be the party's next chairman, Jack Kimball, a businessman with comparatively little political experience, edged out 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 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 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 WMUR-TV, called Kimball's election "highly symbolic."

"For the last 30 years, there have been 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.

Staff writer R. Jeffrey Smith contributed to this report.

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