Remembering Former US Senator Warren Rudman

Looking back at his legacy



Illustration By Peter Noonan

In February Granite Staters all celebrate President's Day - even though the only president to come from the New Hampshire was Franklin Pierce and, historically speaking, he isn't all that much worth celebrating.

New Hampshire is a small state so it's no surprise we have had so few presidents, but we do provide the nation with a proving ground for would-be presidents and the state has also offered up a number of national statesmen.

In November one of those statesmen, former US Senator Warren Rudman, died at the age of 82. His death was mourned by many, both outside and inside Washington. President Barack Obama called him "the embodiment of Yankee sensibility and New England independence."

Such thoughts were shared by many of the nation's political establishment. Rudman never ran for president, but if he had he could have been one formidable and entertaining candidate.

"Who knows if Rudman ever seriously entertained the idea of running for president."

He won two elections to the US Senate in 1980 and 1986. In the Republican primary for Senate in 1980 he won a wild seven-way contest over former Gov. Wesley Powell and a future governor, John H. Sununu. Rudman's campaign style was always quick-witted and serious. He defeated incumbent Democratic Senator John Durkin with 52 percent of the vote and was re-elected with 63 percent.

He will be remembered for co-authoring a ground-breaking budget balancing law, for his grilling of Oliver North during the Iran-Contra scandal, for leading the Senate ethics committee during high-profile investigations and for running a commission that predicted the danger of homeland terrorist attacks just months before the September 11th attacks.

Who knows if Rudman ever seriously entertained the idea of running for president. (He didn't make any reference to it in his memoir.) He was boxed out from running in some ways because his Senate tenure coincided with the 12 years of Republican presidential administrations.

Like presidents, he leaves a legacy of action on big issues. He led to a number of appointments on the federal bench including two former aides, Joseph DiClerico and Paul Barbadoro, Democrat Steve McAuliffe and, of course, he helped put his friend David Souter on the US Supreme Court.

In truth, Rudman probably wouldn't have gone very far in a Republican primary had he run for president. He was vocal about his opposition to the role the Religious Right was playing in Republican politics. In the late 1980s and 1990s the movement was so strong within the party that the Christian Coalition became the dominant interest group and there were a number of presidential candidates catering directly to them, including Pat Robertson, Alan Keyes, Gary Bauer and George W. Bush.

When it came to backing those who ran for president he went with Bob Dole in 1988, who lost to Vice President George H. W. Bush in the primary, and then John McCain in his loss in 2000 to another Bush.

Rudman grew up in Hollis, the son of a Nashua furniture manufacturer. He worked for years in Concord absorbing the state's politics and its culture. His style of politics - fiscally conservative, socially liberal, never backing down from a fight - was the perfect symbol for the Live Free or Die state.

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