Tea party activist takes over New Hampshire's Republicans
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A rancorous fight to lead the New Hampshire Republican Party through next year's presidential race ended Saturday with an upset victory by a conservative activist backed by members of the tea party and other grassroots groups.
Jack Kimball, a relative newcomer to party politics who ran for governor last year as a fiscal and social conservative, beat Juliana Bergeron, who leads the Cheshire County Republicans and was backed by former Gov. John Sununu, the outgoing state party chairman.
The race was closely watched as a sign of how much influence tea party groups will exert in the lead-up to New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation presidential primary, tentatively scheduled for Feb. 14, 2012.
Earlier this month, Mr. Kimball alarmed some Republicans when he said the new chairman should let presidential candidates know that New Hampshire Republicans want their party to "get back to its conservatives values and stay there." Traditionally, party chairmen in New Hampshire remain diligently neutral in presidential primaries, serving more as good-will ambassadors.
Yet Mr. Kimball still won the backing of several powerful Republicans, including the new speaker of the state's House of Representatives, William O'Brien, and its majority leader, D.J. Bettencourt. After his victory on Saturday, which came in a 222-199 vote, Mr. Kimball told reporters that he would not take sides in the primary.
Though the primary is still more than a year away, some potential candidates and their surrogates made sure they had a presence at the meeting, held at Pinkerton Academy in Derry. There were signs planted in the snow banks out front for former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, both presidential candidates in 2008 and possible contenders in 2012.
There were also fliers for former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who has already made multiple visits to New Hampshire, and for former Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, who will sign copies of his new book in Manchester on Monday.
In a presidential straw poll conducted at the meeting, former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts won with 36 percent of the vote, followed by Mr. Paul with 11 percent. Mr. Pawlenty received 8 percent, and former Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska 7 percent. A number of other potential candidates, including Mr. Santorum, won smaller percentages.
First Published January 23, 2011 12:00 am