Bob Smith represented New Hampshire in Washington for eighteen years, winning three terms in the House and two in the Senate. He was famous for his conservative views, his pro-life beliefs, and his clashes with Republican leadership. He met defeat in the 2002 GOP primary at the hands of John E. Sununu, who went on to win one term in the Senate before losing in 2008 to Democrat Jeanne Shaheen.

Shaheen is up for re-election in 2014, and Bob Smith is back. He has just become the second pro-life conservative to announce his candidacy for the Republican nomination for the Senate seat. Can an ex-Senator come back after more than a decade? It’s been done, but rarely.

Complicating the situation is the fact that Smith has lived for several years in Florida since leaving the Senate, although he has continued to own property in New Hampshire. He is now back in the Granite State. He spoke to me at length recently for Leaven for the Loaf about his candidacy and his optimism for the future. (Full interview here.)

“We can all hearken back to Reagan, a very positive man,” says Smith.  “He said ‘We’re Americans. We can rise to the challenge.’ And that will be my theme: rise to the challenge. The health care law is a challenge. The invasion of our privacy by the NSA is a challenge. The debt is a challenge. They are challenges we can meet. Our founders met challenges; why can’t we? [Can’t we do that] in their memory and in their honor and for posterity? That’s the theme. I think it’s basic.”

He wants voters to know that his pro-life convictions are as strong as ever. “I’ve never walked away from it before and I don’t intend to do so now. I had 18 years of a 100% pro-life voting record. Some candidates can say ‘I will’ [vote pro-life]. I can say ‘I did and I will.”

He will face longtime conservative pro-life activist Karen Testerman in the primary. Smith speaks respectfully of Testerman but says he has one thing she lacks: “Twelve years of Senate seniority.” Also in the race is former state senator Jim Rubens, recently named “Citizen of the Year” by New Hampshire’s largest-circulation newspaper in honor of his efforts to keep New Hampshire free of casinos. Rubens prefers to downplay the life issues, saying in an interview with Leaven for the Loaf, “I’m proposing that Republicans focus on issues that we can agree upon.”

Over all these candidates looms the possibility of a primary against pro-choice former senator Scott Brown (R-MA). Brown recently changed his domicile to New Hampshire, and has done nothing to stop speculation that he will challenge Shaheen. Brown would enjoy an advantage over other candidates in terms of funding and name recognition, but he has already drawn stiff resistance from some conservative New Hampshire voters. When Brown headlined the New Hampshire Republican Party’s holiday party on December 19, the event was picketed by over two hundred protesters, most of them Second Amendment defenders.

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