As you know, it takes all kinds, particularly in politics. Here’s Politico contributor Ben Schreckinger’s spin on our newly formed 603 Alliance:
New Hampshire conservatives plan anti-Jeb Bush caucus
[Politico.com] Taking aim at Jeb Bush, a group of leading New Hampshire conservatives and libertarians are preparing to stage their own caucus three months before the state’s first-in-the-nation primary — and then unify behind the winner.
Sick of the string of centrist GOP-ers who’ve dominated the state’s primary in recent years — including John McCain (twice) and Mitt Romney — conservatives and libertarians are hoping to defy the conventional wisdom that the Granite State is moderate-friendly turf between the evangelical-dominated Iowa caucuses and socially conservative South Carolina.
They plan to choose among a slate of candidates likely to include Scott Walker, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul at their own presidential caucus in October, according to activists involved. Participants will agree to unify around the winner of the caucus in the hopes of beating Bush and other perceived moderates in the actual primary. The scheme emerges from years of simmering discontent within the state Republican party that now threatens to spill over into presidential politics and upset the plans of the national party, which has condensed its primary schedule and drastically cut the number of debates in order to hasten consolidation around an establishment nominee.
One of its organizers, tea party activist Jack Kimball, briefly ascended to the state party’s chairmanship in 2011 before being ousted by the forces of the establishment, led by all five top Republican elected officials in New Hampshire. Another, Andrew Hemingway, was a libertarian candidate for governor last year who lost the nomination fight to establishment favorite Walt Haventstein. Other organizers said that last year’s nominations of Havenstein and Scott Brown, who both lost in the general election, was the last straw. The state party was then further roiled in December, when the new Republican majority in the House selected Bill O’Brien as their choice for speaker, but another Republican, Shawn Jasper, seized the speakership with the help of Democrats and was subsequently censured by his own party.
The idea for the caucus emerged in the wake of the November midterms from a series of brainstorming sessions held by demoralized grass-roots activists determined to assert libertarian, conservative and tea party influence.
“It was borne of a sense that we need to do something to give conservatives more of a voice at all levels of government,” said organizer Jim Kofalt, adding that the presidential primary just happens to be the first opportunity to take action.
Just a week after its launch, the league held its first event on Friday, hosting Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in Merrimack. | AP Photo
Several of the liberatarian-oriented groups are enamored of Rand Paul. | AP Photo
Scott Walker is getting good buzz among the activists with whom he’s spoken. | AP Photo
Early this month, the effort’s organizers invited the leaders of roughly two dozen right-leaning political groups to an office space in Concord to pitch them on their plan: form a coalition of libertarians and conservatives; settle on a minimum threshold for conservative credentials; invite presidential candidates who pass the bar to pitch the activists in person; and commit ahead of time to rally behind the winner of a caucus-like process tentatively scheduled for October.
Last week, organizers launched the 603 Alliance, named for the state’s only area code, to oversee the process. The 603 Alliance will assemble the coalition and manage its selection process while a sister organization, the Conservative Business League of New Hampshire — with which it shares a P.O. Box in Concord — will conduct educational outreach and hold events. Just a week after its launch, the league held its first event on Friday, hosting Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in Merrimack. The coalition is set to announce the full details of the process, which are still being hammered out, on April 19 at a summit at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Nashua.
Aaron Day — a leader of the state’s libertarian Free State movement and chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus of New Hampshire — said he plans to participate in the caucus and abide by its outcome. So far, roughly 30 groups have expressed their interest in participating, including pro-gun and pro-life organizations, according to 603 Alliance steering committee member Mike Rogers.
One of the groups, the Conservative Business League of New Hampshire, hosted Cruz at an event in Merrimack last Friday. Rogers, for his part, said Walker is getting good buzz among the activists with whom he’s spoken. And several of the liberatarian-oriented groups are enamored of Paul.
The party establishment, however, is not losing any sleep over the scheme, said moderate Republican David Hess, a 25-year veteran of the New Hampshire House, where’s he’s held various leadership positions. “I’m sure it’s destined to failure,” he said.
Caucus organizers acknowledge there’s no guarantee that the multifarious factions gathered under their banner, united foremost by their opposition to the moderate establishment, will actually adhere to the outcome of their selection process.
“It’s challenging to get people behind what might be their second- or third-choice candidate,” said Kofalt, a member of the 603 Alliance’s steering committee. “That’s always a struggle, but the reality is people can get behind their second choice candidate or they can end up with conservatives being fragmented and ultimately locked out of the process.”
Even when unified around a single candidate, conservatives and libertarians would be hard-pressed to win a primary in liberal New England in which, historically, more than three of 10 voters have been independents, who in New Hampshire are able to vote in either party’s primary.
In 2012, anti-establishment candidates Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul won a combined 42 percent of the state’s primary vote, barely surmounting Romney’s 39 percent in the state. In 2008, Paul and Mike Huckabee combined for less than 20 percent of the vote, not even close to McCain’s winning 38 percent haul. McCain, second-place finisher Romney and fourth place-finisher Rudy Giuliani — the kinds of candidates the coalition would be designed to defeat — won a combined 79 percent of the vote.
But 603 Alliance members expressed their conviction that a small-but-determined coalition could determine the outcome of a crowded primary. “If you can sway even 10 percent of the primary vote, you’ve got a very good chance of getting a better candidate,” said Rogers.
Rogers said organizers wanted to err on the side of considering more candidates, not fewer, but laughed at the idea that Bush could win the caucus.
“I don’t see that happening,” he said.