Concord, NH - (CNSNews) - George W Bush may be the choice for most Republicans in America, but in New Hampshire, site of the first-in-the-nation presidential primary -John McCain and his supporters still carry the day.
Nearly five months after McCain stunned the political world with a rout of Bush in the Granite State primary, McCain's supporters Thursday won control of the New Hampshire GOP. They did so by ousting two members of the state's delegation to the Republican National Committee.
In as the new Republican National Committeeman is Michael Dennehy, a top McCain advisor and aide. Dennehy ran McCain's successful New Hampshire primary campaign and now works for the senator's "Straight Talk" political action committee. Also in is McCain backer Nancy Merrill, the new Republican National Committeewoman.
Out is long time GOP activist and former New Hampshire Attorney General Tom Rath, who jumped on the Bush bandwagon after former Tennessee Governor Lamar Alexander dropped out of the race and Ruth Griffin, a long-time member of the state's Executive Council, an elective body which oversees certain functions of the executive branch of government.
Knowing he would lose, Rath withdrew his name from further consideration and told the gathering, "It is time to come together." Rath was subsequently ousted on a voice vote that seemed nearly unanimous for Dennehy. Merrill defeated Griffin by a vote of 10 to 7, the same margin by which McCain backers controlled the meeting.
Moments after it began, McCain backers left little doubt they were in control. Republican State Chairman Steve Duprey was ousted as chairman of the session and replaced by McCain supporter and Executive Councilor Peter Spaulding. Keeping with his long-standing policy, Duprey remained neutral during the hotly contested primary campaign. Spaulding will also chair the state's delegation to the national convention, which McCain controls by a 10 to 7 margin.
McCain trounced Bush in the New Hampshire Primary by 19 points and was actively involved in the effort to dump Rath and Griffin. The senator, who left the presidential race after numerous losses on Super Tuesday, wrote his supporters urging them to back Dennehy and Merrill and reportedly reinforced the letter with personal contacts.
Supporters of Rath and Griffin insisted the change in committeeman and committeewoman could be costly, as the party decides what to do about New Hampshire's status as the leadoff primary state. In recent election cycles, the primary has come under increased attack by party regulars, upset over McCain's defeat of Bush and Patrick J. Buchanan's 1996 defeat of former Senator Robert Dole.
"I want to save the primary. It's in very deep trouble," Rath said. We will never hold this primary if we don't carry the state (for Bush) in November."
Rath's sentiment was echoed by others at the meeting. "I believe election to these positions should be about saving the primary and not about politicians," said Barbara Russell, an early Bush supporter in the Granite State.
"I believe we have made a monumental mistake tonight," said another Bush supporter, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "The status of this primary is very precarious. No one has better contacts on the National Committee than Tom Rath and Ruth Griffin. I believe Dennehy will be seen as an outsider on the national body. He will probably be very isolated, given some of his comments during the primary. Governor Bush is especially fond of Ruth. He wasn't kidding when he called her his second mother, as he campaigned around the state. Tonight's vote could turn out to be a big time mistake."
But former United States Senator Warren Rudman, McCain's national chairman and a close personal friend of Rath's, seemed to work overtime to clear the air. Referring to McCain's supporters, Rudman said, "These devoted people said to Senator McCain, and let's get the record straight, he did not say it to them, that they wanted to elect the national committeeman and national committeewoman as a symbol of his victory in New Hampshire."
In urging party unity, Rudman said, "We face a terrific fight to keep this primary. We face a terrific fight to win the presidency."
Following the election, Dennehy said, "There is nothing wrong with change. It's important to bring new people into the process." As for the primary, Dennehy acknowledged an uphill battle in the state's fight to retain its number one status, when the issue is discussed at the Philadelphia convention. "You can't pass up a fight...I believe our chances are better than even."
Convention delegates will consider a proposal, dubbed the "Delaware Plan," which lumps New Hampshire, 11 other small states, four territories and the District of Columbia, into a pool and allows them to hold the first round of primary contests on the first Tuesday in February, the traditional date of the New Hampshire Primary. Under New Hampshire law, however, the state must hold its primary at least seven days before any other contest.
McCain captured 48 percent of the Republican Primary vote and, as a result won 10 of the state's 17 delegates to the national convention. Bush got 30 percent of the vote and five delegates, while publisher Steve Forbes got 13 percent and two delegates.