The visit many mainstream Republicans have been waiting for it at hand.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush will make his first visit to New Hampshire in 15 years on March 13 and 14. And guiding his effort in New Hampshire as he moves toward a full-fledged presidential campaign will be GOP operative Rich Killion, a veteran of many Granite State political battles dating back more than a dozen years.
Bush’s schedule for the two days has yet to be determined, but it is clear that he intends to focus intently on the Granite State moving forward – as he must if he hopes to win the GOP nomination.
Killion comes on board as the senior advisor in New Hampshire to Bush’s Right To Rise PAC. Presumably, he will stay on in a similar role if – as expected – Bush officially becomes a candidate.
Killion was the top strategist for Mitt Romney in New Hampshire in 2008 and had a similar role for the short-lived campaign of former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty in 2011. He has also been deeply involved in numerous state campaigns, including general consultant for John Stephen’s strong but unsuccessful run for governor in 2010 and, as far back as 2002,he managed the gubernatorial campaign of former state Sen. Bruce Keough.
In his work for Romney’s first presidential campaign, Killion worked with top operative Sally Bradshaw, who had been Bush’s chief of staff in his governor’s office from 1999 to 2001.
He has also worked as a lobbyist on numerous issues in the State House – including with the pro-expanded gambling lobby – and in the most recent cycle was advisor and chief coordinator of the state Senate Republican Majority PAC, headed by Senate President Chuck Morse. With Killion’s guidance, the PAC raised more money than any similar Senate GOP fundraising committee in the past. That fund-raising helped the Republican increase their majority in the Senate from 13-11 to 14-10.
Killion’s connection to the state Senate leadership and the business community could benefit Bush well as he seeks out top endorsements in the first-in-the-nation primary state.
Killion and Erik Taylor established Elevare Communications in 2004 and has also worked on several other state Senate campaigns. Killion’s role with Bush is independent of Elevare.
As a senior advisor to Bush in New Hampshire, Killion will have an opportunity promote the likely candidate viewed as the narrow front-runner in the crowded field, and will have the challenge of helping Bush distinguish himself from his father and brother, both former presidents.
Kristy Campbell, spokesman for Bush’s Right to Rise PAC, said, “We are excited Rich Killion has agreed to come on board as a senior advisor in New Hampshire to the Right to Rise PAC. Rich’s counsel will be critical to Governor Bush as he outlines his vision for the future of our country and travels across America in support of conservative candidates and causes.”
She said Bush is looking forward to the visit, and said his schedule will be announced in the coming weeks. Bush’s visit will overlap with at least one other likely major contender — Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker also plans to be in the state on Saturday, March 14, for a state Republican Party training session at the New Hampshire Technical Institute in Concord.
The Bush camp believes that if, as expected, he moves forward with a campaign, Killion would be a critical asset for his New Hampshire effort. And with the Iowa Republican caucus-goers viewed being philosophically to the right of Bush, New Hampshire would be central to his campaign’s ability to move forward.
The early view is that Bush, in order to move forward in the nominating process, will have to win the New Hampshire primary outright. That view could change as expectations and polls ebb and flow over the next year, but there is no question that Bush must have a strong showing in the Granite State.
Bushes have had mixed success in New Hampshire. George H.W. Bush lost the primary in 1980 to Ronald Reagan, but won it in 1988. Then, as a sitting President, he was hurt by Pat Buchanan’s nearly 40 percent showing in 1992.
George W. Bush lost the New Hampshire primary to John McCain 2000 but recovered in South Carolina and went on to win the nomination and the White House. As an incumbent, he was essentially unopposed in the 2004 primary. Bush narrowly won New Hampshire in the 2000 general election but lost it to John Kerry in 2004.
Jeb Bush’s challenge will be to make his own way, capitalizing on the Bush name in the Granite State while overcoming the potential for “Bush fatigue.”
Said one key Republican: “People know the name but they don’t know Jeb Bush. His challenge is to lay out his own vision and his own program and talk about his own experience. People will find that he is not his brother, not his father, and that he’s him.”
Bush, the Republican said, must “embrace a campaign in the New Hampshire tradition” if he hopes to win.
Veteran political operative Tom Rath said Killion was a “great pick-up” for Bush. “He knows the state very well and is very good at analytics and numbers, and overall, understands what it takes to be successful in New Hampshire.”
Rath, who had been ready to support Romney but remains a free agent in the so-called “operative primary,” said the Bush’s visit and hiring of Killion “is an acknowledgement by the Bush people that New Hampshire has to be won. And the one way you win is by physical presence. It is good that he is coming early in the year.”
Rath noted that when George W. Bush first ran for President, his first visit was in the summer of 1999 (in New Castle), and so Jeb Bush is ahead of that schedule.
Rath also said that with Romney no longer a factor, Bush stands to gain a fair number of Romney’s New Hampshire supporters, but, he said, “I don’t think anyone is going to go in lockstep to one place at all.”
Evidence of that came earlier this week when Romney’s top 2012 advisor in the state, Jim Merrill, joined Florida Sen. Marco Rubio as his senior advisor in New Hampshire.
Killion’s formal comment, released by the Bush PAC, was: “Although our party has many accomplished individuals, Governor Bush’s track record of making conservative principles work for millions of Floridians clearly stands out and I’m thrilled to help him with the Right to Rise PAC. His strong fiscal leadership provided $20 billion in tax cuts and the first ever triple-A bond rating for his state.
“He took on the toughest fights and fought the teachers unions to overhaul the state’s failing schools and finally give parents more choices for their children with school choice and charter schools. That’s the type of conservative reform and leadership we need in Washington.”
Killion went on: “Governor Bush believes deeply in the transformative power of conservative ideas to renew America and to ensure every American has the right to rise our economic ladder. His optimistic vision and willingness to fight to remove the barriers to upward mobility is a message that needs to be heard in every corner of the Granite State.”
Killion is also a former director of the Marlin Fitzwater Center for Communication at Franklin Pierce University, has been recognized by New Hampshire Union Leader in its “40 Under 40” series of emerging leaders and was named by Campaigns & Elections as one of the top 10 Republican Influencers and by National Journal as one of the top 10 political operatives in the state.