BELMONT — "If this party goes," Bob Smith told the Belknap County Republican Committee this week, "watch out for America, because I don't see much hope."
Smith, of Tuftonboro, is locked in a three-cornered scrap with Scott Brown of Rye and Jim Rubens of Hanover to become the GOP nominee to challenge Jeanne Shaheen, the incumbent Democrat, for the U.S. Senate.
No stranger to Washington, Smith served three terms in the House of Representatives, and two in the Senate -- from 1984 until 2002 -- when he lost his bid for re-election to John E. Sununu in the GOP primary. Smith decamped to Florida where he twice abandoned campaigns for the Senate after failing to raise sufficient funds and showing poorly in the polls.
Smith is the insurgent candidate in the Senate race. Brown, who represented Massachusetts in the Senate for one term, is the favorite of the GOP leadership that courted him to enter the race as the most electable candidate. Rubens, a former state senator, has been endorsed by the Republican Liberty Caucus of New Hampshire, but has tailored his appeal to all factions of the splintered GOP.
For Smith the primary is a contest for the nomination, but with it the soul of the GOP.
Sounding a familiar theme to a packed house at the Top of the Town restaurant, Smith said "America is in trouble. The Democrats are not going to save this country," he declared. "They're so far to the left they will never return this country to constitutional rule. Obama is breaking the law, absolutely breaking the law."
Smith insisted that only a Republican presidency and congressional majority could pull the country from the brink. "How are we going to change this?" he asked. "There's one way to win. Stand on principle."
But, Smith stressed "we must elect the right people," meaning not those in the GOP who vote and compromise with the Democrats. He said that "people don't know the difference between us and them." Recalling a conversation with a high-ranking Republican official, Smith said that many fear the GOP will become a party confined to the South and West, adding that the likes of Olympia Snowe of Maine and Scott Brown "are the best we can hope for" in the Northeast. "Don't compromise with the left," he declared.
"You have a choice in this primary," Smith said. "I support the Republican platform 100 percent," he continued. "Not because it's the platform, but because it is right." He reminded his listeners that Brown holds positions at odds with the platform and, during his term in the Senate, often voted with President Obama nearly 70 percent of the time. He bridled at the prominent Republicans, including Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who have publicly endorsed Brown. Noting that the Republican National Committee was soliciting contributions to Brown's campaign, Smith exclaimed, "I'm offended by that and it should offend you."
Asked by Don Sorensen if he would support the Republican nominee whatever the outcome of the primary, Smith replied that the party should "unite around its platform, not candidates." When Sorensen said he would vote for the Republican candidate, Smith replied, "How's that been working out for us? The results have not been favorable," he said, pointing to a string of lost elections.
"We owe it to those who founded this country and climbed the cliffs at Normandy to save this country," Smith proclaimed. When history is written, he noted, it will recall either "they did nothing and like frogs in a pot they lost America or that they saved this country." Appealing for support for "the candidate who is with the party," Smith said "give me a chance."