Bob Smith Says Leaving Republican Party Was A "Mistake

July 7, 2008 - 7:25 PM

( - Senator Bob Smith of New Hampshire - the longtime Republican-turned-Independent-turned Republican again -- said his decision last year to bolt the Republican Party was a mistake.

Smith returned to the GOP after considering a presidential bid under the banner of the independent Taxpayers Party. At the time, he insisted the Taxpayers Party was the true route for conservatives.

But only four months after castigating the Republican Party from the floor of the U.S. Senate -- "The party, to put it bluntly, is hypocritical," he said in July 1999 -- Smith rejoined the GOP, which had backed him in his three runs for the House as well as two Senate contests.

"I felt that some issues we should be addressing, we weren't addressing," Smith said of his decision to leave his long time political home.

Now, in retrospect, Smith has another take on his decision. "Leaving the party was a mistake. My grandfather always taught me, when you make a mistake, admit it and move on."

Smith is spending more and more time in the Granite State, working to mend political fences. Despite his efforts, more than a few home-state Republicans believe Smith will face a tough primary challenge.

If he does clinch the Republican nomination, he would likely face Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, a popular two-term Democrat, who signed into law a statewide property -- the state's first broad-based levy.

Smith said he was encouraged to rejoin the Republican party by Senate Majority leader Trent Lott of Louisiana. According to Smith, Lott insisted the GOP would be the best place to promote his agenda.

Smith's decision to return to the GOP was made easier by the October death of Rhode Island Sen. John Chafee, who served as chairman of the powerful Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Smith eventually assumed chairmanship of Chafee's committee.

Despite Lott's encouragement, Smith is still critical of the party and its leader. "We don't articulate our agenda...we don't have a spokesman," he said this week.

Smith also had some advice for Arizona Sen. John McCain, who "suspended" his presidential campaign last week. "My advice to him would be stay in the Republican Party and support George Bush," Smith said.

Smith said Bush is the person to give the party the leadership it needs, adding, "I've learned the hard way. In the legislative process, you have to compromise."