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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

GOP supporters hoping Horn follows in Sununu’s style

As a woman with no history in elected office, Jennifer Horn doesn’t look much like some of New Hampshire’s Republican leaders. But local supporters and colleagues hope she will come to resemble one man in particular.

Horn, a veteran conservative activist, is the third person to chair the state Republican Party since John Sununu, the former governor who left office in 2010. In the years since, the group has missed his spirit and bluster, suffering from slow fundraising and poor election results. ...

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As a woman with no history in elected office, Jennifer Horn doesn’t look much like some of New Hampshire’s Republican leaders. But local supporters and colleagues hope she will come to resemble one man in particular.

Horn, a veteran conservative activist, is the third person to chair the state Republican Party since John Sununu, the former governor who left office in 2010. In the years since, the group has missed his spirit and bluster, suffering from slow fundraising and poor election results.

“Certainly, when you’re used to somebody like Gov. Sununu, it helps having that kind of aggressiveness coming from the state party,” said Kevin Smith, a Litchfield Republican who ran for governor in 2012. “Jennifer is ready to bring a bit of that back to the party.”

Although she’s never held office, Horn has spent years brandishing her conservative credentials, supporters said this week.

A former health insurance worker, Horn entered the political sphere in the 2000s, first as a columnist for The Telegraph and then as a radio host for local WSMN, where she advocated for traditional conservative issues like small government and low taxes.

“That’s definitely where she comes from as far as her beliefs,” said Andrew Cernota, chairman of the Nashua City Republican Committee. “Her family, her faith and her commitment to our country are really the core values that she holds, and those are things that are shared by many people in the electorate.”

In her first run for political office in 2008, Horn drew the attention of the Republican establishment, defeating four candidates on her way to the party nomination in the 2nd Congressional District.

“She has showed an ability to bring together people from all sides of the party,” said state Rep. Shawn Jasper, a Hudson Republican. “That’s something she’s shown an ability to do.”

But Horn fell in the 2008 general election to sitting U.S. Rep. Paul Hodes, a Concord Democrat. And she lost again two years later, falling this time to former Rep. Charles Bass, of Peterborough, in the Republican primary. Bass went on to win the seat.

The two races helped build Horn’s name recognition and raised her profile around the state. In the years since, she went on to found “We the People,” a political interest group, and in 2012, she was named co-chair of presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s grassroots organization.

“When you look at the races she ran for Congress and the work she has done with her ‘We the People’ group, she has built a brand around some of those conservative issues,” said Smith, of Litchfield, who received Horn’s endorsement in the gubernatorial race.

But the congressional races did little to enhance Horn’s fundraising credentials. Combined, her two runs for office left her $200,000 in debt.

Now head of the state group, Republican candidates and voters alike will look to Horn to unite the party, expand the voting base and increase fundraising, which had suffered in the years since Sununu left office, party leaders said.

Horn’s experience in the media will help her to spread the party’s message, according to Jasper, of Hudson, and her strong fiscally conservative views will appeal to voters from all ends of the spectrum, said Cernota, of the Nashua GOP group.

“It’s important as a party that we need to reach out to everyone,” he said. “It’s sort of in her nature to reach out to people and try to create that unification.”

But Democratic opponents warn there’s one part of the electorate Horn should leave behind. If she, throughout her tenure, bends to the pressures of the extreme tea party wing of the Republican party, she won’t have any more luck than her predecessors, local Democratic leaders warned Monday.

“It could be tough for her to stand up to them, but if she doesn’t find a way, she’ll have a tough road ahead,” said Dave Tencza, chairman of the Nashua Democratic City Committee.

“The lesson of the last election is that the voters of the state seem to be rejecting extreme partisanship,” state Rep. David Campbell, a Nashua Democrat, added. “That hasn’t changed. Voters are calling out for common sense, moderation and fiscal responsibility. To the extent that she can accomplish that, good luck to her.”

Jake Berry can be reached at 594-6402 or jberry@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Berry on Twitter (Telegraph_JakeB).