Bob Smith is Ba-a-ack

Is NH's Bob Smith the one to watch?

Illustratio by Peter Noonan

New Hampshire’s US Senate contest this year is one of the most interesting, complicated and important contests in the entire country. Republican candidate Scott Brown’s decision to move to New Hampshire and then run in the contest didn’t just instantly make the Senate contest to take on Democratic incumbent Jeanne Shaheen competitive for the first time, but will impact every other race in the state this fall.

Brown is focused on Shaheen. Shaheen is focused on Brown. But what about Bob?

Bob Smith, a Republican, is what takes the state’s US Senate race to another level. There might be no other Senate contest in the country’s history that features three people who have served in the Senate. It certainly has to be the only contest featuring candidates like Smith and Brown, who have explored runs for US Senate in two different states.

Smith deserves a place in the conversation. While Shaheen has served six years in the office and Brown three years representing Massachusetts, Smith served 12 years and represented the state in Washington for 18 years.

Walking through Smith’s history of campaigning is a political junkie’s dream. He first appeared on a ballot in 1980 when he lost a Republican congressional primary to eccentric former NH House Speaker Marshall Cobleigh. He ran again for the same seat in 1982, but lost to Democratic incumbent Norm D’Amours. In 1984, D’Amours ran for Senate, and Smith was elected for the first time to Congress, proving that his third time doing so was a charm. In 1986, he bested Democrat Jim Demers, who is now a prominent Concord lobbyist, and in 1988 he won re-election over Joe Keefe, whose sister is now Shaheen’s chief of staff.

When he first ran for the Senate, in 1990, he faced off against former US Sen. John Durkin, who himself had one of the oddest political careers in the state’s history. Six years later when Smith ran for re-election, some national networks declared that he lost re-election when hours later it became clear that he had won.

This is when Smith’s political career went to another level. In 1999 he decided to run for President. When that didn’t work out the way he had hoped, he decided to leave the party and run for president on the Taxpayers Party ticket. A week later that idea flopped and he ran as an Independent. Then that didn’t work out and a few months later he re-joined the Republican Party.

Got that?

Here is the interesting point in all this: despite this being his fourth run for US Senate in New Hampshire — and leaving aside his two failed launches for the Senate in Florida — he is the upstart and the outsider of the race in 2014.

Only half of the state’s residents even know who the guy is, according to an April WMUR Granite State Poll. When it comes to raising money he isn’t even close to what Shaheen and Brown are bringing in, raising questions of whether he will even get to compete.

Despite all that, Smith might be the one to watch this summer. If New Hampshire political history is any guide, there will be some type of insurgent conservative challenger to Brown ahead of the September primary. And Smith knows his New Hampshire history since he has been part of it for an entire generation.

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