By JOHN DiSTASO, News Editor
CONCORD — Conservative activist Karen Testerman ended her campaign and did not file for the New Hampshire U.S. Senate seat Friday, instead throwing her support to former Sen. Bob Smith, who she called an “unwavering” and “true” conservative on fiscal and social issues.
As the only pro-life fiscal conservative in the race now, Smith has the potential to become a formidable opponent to former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown and former state Sen Jim Rubens in the Republican Senate primary for the right to take on Democratic incumbent Sen. Jeanne Shaheen in the fall.
But Friday’s development will be remembered as a significant milestone in the campaign only if Smith can now truly muster support of a substantial bloc of the conservative base in the state as well as conservative financial backers and opinion leaders here and nationally.
Testerman stood by while Smith filed his candidacy at the Secretary of State’s office, following a bit of intriguing political theatre.
Each met separately with their supporters at the Legislative Office Building before joining to walk across the street to the State House together, followed by a large group of unified backers.
Smith, a former two-term senator and three-term House member, then sat down at the Secretary of State’s office and filled out the necessary paperwork while Testerman watched approvingly, along with Smith’s wife, MaryJo, and the Smith-Testerman supporters.
The Testerman move had been rumored for several weeks, but the buzz intensified in the past few days following U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s historic loss in a Virginia GOP primary to vastly underfunded college professor and Tea Party backer David Brat.
Testerman said the Cantor loss “had no impact on us.” She said her decision was made several weeks ago after “praying” and deep introspection, and, “It’s not any poll. It’s not anybody’s counsel that can bring it about.”
But she also said Granite State conservatives are clearly energized by Cantor loss and that the energy can now be harnessed.
“Time and time again,” Testerman said, “we have watched as our conservative candidates have come forward and caused a split in the ticket….I will not cause our principle-driven voters, primary voters especially, to cast a vote that doesn’t mean anything. I simply will not stand by and split a vote any longer.
“We can win this nomination, as conservatives who believe in our party platform, if we unite behind Bob Smith,” said Testerman. “I think I’m a good candidate and I will not go away, but it’s time to unite.”
Smith praised Testerman for “unprecedented political and personal courage,” and insisted, “Karen is not dropping out of the race. We are going to be side-by-side every step of the way.”
He also cited the Cantor loss.
“The breeze is blowing,” he said. “It’s coming here. It’s coming to New Hampshire.
“Conservatives are unified in New Hampshire,” Smith said. “This is the first step. We’re going to beat Jeanne Shaheen, we’re going to win this primary. We’re going to surprise everybody.”
Smith said he and Testerman “had a lot of talks” about unifying, and, “No one asked the other one to get out. Karen, to her credit, just wanted to make sure that we were united. We made that commitment many weeks ago, that one way or the other there would be only one candidate.”
Testerman said when Smith got into the race, “It was a concern of mine that we only have one voice go forward…It’s not for me, it’s for the country.”
But she also said Smith “has experience” and “a track record, and we know that he stands strong. Senator Smith has been unwavering in everything that he’s done…We know that Senator Smith is a fighter.”
Scott Brown remains the frontrunner in the GOP primary, but Rubens has been viewed as emerging as the leading alternative to the former Bay State senator. Rubens has picked up the support of some individual activists associated with the Tea Party, but more significantly, recently received the backing of the Republican Liberty Caucus, both nationally and the state chapter.
But Smith said he hopes to gain momentum now.
“The message is very clear to national conservatives, if they mean what they say,” he said. “We’re talking about conservative organizations, conservative candidates for President. We’ve united here on the ground in New Hampshire, and if you come here running as a conservative, here we are.”
He also noted that as the only pro-life candidate left in the race, “there is room there some support. But we’re not running a campaign on endorsements. We’re running a campaign on the ground.
“There is a lot of support out there for the cause, not particularly for a candidate, but the cause, “Smith said. “We’re tired of being spied upon, we’re tired of being criticized for our political beliefs. We’re losing our freedoms and people are sick of it. And people are coming out in droves and it’s going to be a fun election night.”
He also called the RLC endorsement of Rubens “fairly shallow” because it came from the leadership and “a lot of the rank-and-file don’t agree with it. It came from the top.”
Testerman noted that Rubens is pro-choice and “is for a carbon tax,” although he no longer backs such a tax.
“There are so many different things that he is for that makes him not the conservative candidate,” Testerman said.
RLCNH Chairman Aaron Day said Rubens’ position on the carbon tax “was one of the biggest issues” of contention before the group backed Rubens.
“We spent hours and hours with him on this, and he changed his policy on this through debate and not for the endorsement,” Day said.
Day pointed out that Smith as chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in 2001 was amenable to “a system of ‘cap and trade exchange, reducing emissions from NOx, SOx, and mercury, and also explore options for a voluntary, market- based incentive approach to reducing carbon,” according to an interview Smith conducted in 2001 with the former online magazine TCS Daily.
“The idea that Jim is wishy-washy and Smith is firm on this is ridiculous,” Day said.
Day also said that while others may perceive the RLC differently, in fact, “we’re not a socially conservative organization, and that has never been the mission of the RLC. Jim truly does reflect the principles of the Republican Liberty Caucus. If people don’t like what the RLC is about, that’s fine, but that’s a different argument.”
Day said the Testerman endorsement of Smith was expected and will actually help Rubens “because there is now one less candidate in the race. It’s not at all surprising. But I think when one digs at Smith’s campaign from a fund-raising perspective and an infrastructure perspective, there’s not a lot going on there.”
Rubens campaign spokesman Brian Tilton issued a statement:
“We are continuing to build our grassroots support, talking about bold solutions and uniting the Republican base. Our fully funded, fully staffed campaign continues to take our message out to the people who are looking for solutions and want to send someone to Washington who will bring a fresh perspective to solve problems.”
Tilton said, “New Hampshire’s grassroots primary process is working to sort out which candidate can best debate and defeat Jeanne Shaheen. The Jim Rubens campaign is building a robust grassroots operation. We are bringing bold solutions to the nation’s jobs, debt, and government overreach challenges. We are uniting the Republican base. And Jim Rubens has lived here in New Hampshire for 40 years and is dedicated to serving the people of New Hampshire and not to being just another Washington career politician.”