By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
CONCORD — After serving three terms in New Hampshire Senate and mounting an unsuccessful bid for the governorship, Jeanie Forrester of Meredith has been chosen to chair the New Hampshire Republican Party. "I like challenges," she said.
As the the lone candidate for the post and with the endorsement of Gov. Chris Sununu, Forrester's ascension at the party's annual meeting passed with ease, overshadowed by the mixed response when Jennifer Horne, her predecessor, urged Republicans to scrap their opposition to same sex marriage.
"I didn't take anything for granted," Forrester said. "I ran like I was in a race out of respect for those who supported me." She said that she retraced the steps of her campaign for the gubernatorial nomination, traipsing up, down and around the state to meet city, town and county Republican committees.
Before serving in the Senate, Forrester, who first tasted politics as an aide to Gov. John H. Sununu in the early 1980s, was best known for work as a town administrator and community organizer. She led successful community development programs in Plymouth and Meredith and became a well known figure across Belknap and Grafton counties, experience that should serve her well in tending the grassroots of the party. Open, amiable and gracious, Forrester, known as "Toxic Jeanie" among Democrats, nevertheless brings sharp partisan elbows to a job that requires them.
Forrester inherits a party, which for the first time since 2004 holds the governor's office as well as the House and Senate, but not one of the state's four congressional seats. Moreover, the party is divided, or as Forrester acknowledged, "We are a party of diversity," then rattled off the factions — the House Republican Alliance, New Hampshire Liberty Alliance, Tea Party, Free State Project and, not least, the Trump supporters.
"There are so many factions and I intend to engage every one of these groups," Forrester said. "Their voices must be heard and their opinions must be respected."
Conceding not everyone will agree on everything, she said, "We'll look for common ground and find others things we can agree on. Anyone who wants to meet with me, I will meet with."
Forrester said she had an invitation from Aaron Day of the Free State Project and Liberty Caucus, whose independent bid for the United States Senate arguably cost the GOP the seat held by Kelly Ayotte.
"If he wants to meet," Forrester said. "I'll meet with him."
Forrester touted her candidacy for the party chair with the slogan "Make New Hampshire Red Again," which she said signaled "putting into practice what I learned while running for governor." That includes pursuing an aggressive fundraising campaign, engaging members of the business community, strengthening local party committees and recruiting promising candidates. She said that in 2016 the party targeted much of its resources and efforts on state races while in 2018 there will a greater focus on the federal contests with the aim of capturing at least one if not both of the House seats held by Democrats.
Forrester said that with 2016 proving to be a record year for fundraising, the GOP is in a sound financial condition and positioned to become even stronger. As a candidate for the party chair, she supported breaking with past precedent and making it a paid position, which easily carried the state committee by a vote of 268 to 90. She said that the specific terms remain to be defined by the executive committee while stressing "I intend to be full time." She said that she has begun assembling a staff for what she emphasized "will be a team effort."
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