On the Political Front: You Won't See N.H.'s Highest-Ranking Republicans in Cleveland

Jul 18, 2016

Kelly Ayotte and Frank Guinta say they will not be attending the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
Credit Allegra Boverman for NHPR

On the Political Front is our occasional check-in with NHPR's Senior Political Reporter Josh Rogers.

  The Republican National Convention kicks off Monday in Cleveland. You’re heading there shortly to cover the New Hampshire delegation – all 23 of them.

Maybe not every last one. But as a group,  absolutely.

I mention the number, because while, 23 Republicans from New Hampshire are headed for Ohio, some top members of the party are steering well clear.

U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte tops that list, but Frank Guinta, who is the state’s second-highest elected Republican, is also skipping the convention. None of the candidates running for governor will be there, nor will any Republican seeking a major office from New Hampshire. The same could be said about plenty of Republicans across the country.

Is this all due to the fact Donald Trump is the nominee?

If you ask Republicans who are running for something this fall, like Ayotte and Guinta, you will get a variant on the argument that they are focused on New Hampshire and voters here, which may be true and it may be prudent, but if a different sort of Republican were topping the ticket, I think it’s fair to say they might be saying something different. And, you know, they are far from alone in not heading to Cleveland. Mitt Romney and John McCain, the party’s last two nominees, won't be attending the convention, nor will the party’s last two presidents: George W. Bush George H.W. Bush. Not surprising perhaps, given things Trump said about Romney, McCain, and the Bush family, but certainly without precedent that I could find. 

And it ought to be noted that plenty of the New Hampshire delegates aren’t sold on Trump.

Yes, but the majority are, and because of his big primary win -- 20 points – the bulk of the delegates are Trump loyalists. Yet some of the delegates won by other candidates are more than leery. Some like former U.S. Senator Gordon Humphrey, a Kasich delegate, has been working to persuade delegates to drop Trump, who he’s called a sociopath. Others like Bill O’Brien, who backed Ted Cruz, has continued to describe Trump as conning voters, most recently in Sunday's Concord Monitor. But Trump definitely has his staunch New Hampshire backers, too. The delegation’s official leader is Corey Lewandowski, who lives in Windham. He managed Trump’s campaign during the primary, got fired, and now works as an analyst for CNN, while still collecting severance pay from Trump. And there are others.

But besides formalizing Donald Trump’s nomination, the convention will make official the platform and start looking toward the 2020 election.

Absolutely -- and in more ways than one. Delegates will vote on rules that will keep the current early states -  Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina - in their leadoff spots. There has been interest, including at the very top of the party nationally, to end what’s known as the early state carve-out. That threat, based on RNC votes last week, is over for now. So barring the unlikely, one outcome from Cleveland looks like New Hampshire will be on track, for now, to keep its leadoff spot, and those eyeing runs four years from now know it.

What do you mean?

The New Hampshire delegation will be visited by people who could run four years or even eight years from now. Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa are seen as up and comers in the GOP. They will visit the New Hampshire delegation. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker will also be paying his respects. So too will, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who of course came in a distant second to Trump here in February. Kasich’s schedule this week is particularly odd and emblematic of the strange nature of this convention. He’s governor of the host state, who isn’t going to attend the convention, but will be hobnobbing with delegates outside the convention itself. That may be one reason why the Ohio contingent doesn't have the greatest spot on the convention floor. New Hampshire’s spot, for what it’s worth, is seen as a good one, close to the stage.