Update - Smith to Quit Republican Party

By Scott Hogenson | July 7, 2008 | 8:24 PM EDT

Write-thru: Includes RNC reaction, history of Senate party switchers

(CNS) - The head of the Republican Party isn't going to let Senator Bob Smith (R-NH) leave the party without an effort to change his mind.

Republican National Committee Chairman Jim Nicholson Friday afternoon wrote to Smith, telling him that it "would be a serious mistake" for Smith to quit the GOP, and he urged the senator to "reconsider turning your back on your many Republican friends and supporters."

Republican sources confirmed to CNSNews.com Smith will announce next week that he is leaving the Republican Party. The sources, who asked to not be identified, said that Smith will make his "initial announcement" in the Senate on Tuesday.

One source said that it was not yet certain whether Smith would join an existing third party in his run for president or whether he would form his own party.

Calling Smith's decision "counterproductive," Nicholson said that the New Hampshire conservatives departure from the GOP would "not be a case of the party leaving you, Bob, but rather of you leaving our party. Far from turning away from the conservative themes we both share, the party has championed them."

Officials with Smith's presidential campaign in New Hampshire were engaged in private meetings Friday afternoon, following reports earlier in the day that Smith was preparing to leave the Republican Party next week and strike out for the White House as a third party candidate.

As one in a crowded field of Republicans seeking the GOP presidential nomination, Smith has captured roughly 1 percent of the vote in virtually all opinion polls and informal straw polls, including surveys of voters in his home state, where the nation's first presidential primary will be held next year.

Smith will become the 13th member of the Senate to switch parties this century, but he's the third senator to switch in less than five years. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Sen. Ben Nighhorse Campbell (R-CO) both left the Democratic Party to join the GOP, with Shelby switching in 1994 and Campbell the following year.

Smith's decision to leave the GOP follows months of public disappointment with the party. "He's like a voice in the wilderness," said one Capitol Hill source, who spoke with CNSNews.com on the condition of anonymity. "There's no reason for Smith to stay with the GOP if he's always out there on his own."

The Internet web site for the Smith's presidential campaign sets the stage for a move away from the GOP, voicing his criticism of the party and some of its recent political actions. The campaign web site's home page doesn't describe Smith as a Republican candidate, save for an excerpt from a media report that calls him "the most conservative presidential candidate in the Republican field."

"My fellow Republicans, many in our Party have failed us," read a rolling display on Smith's web site Friday afternoon.

Citing a series of examples of what Smith called failures of the Republican Party, the candidate's web site singles out "those Republicans who voted to acquit (President) Bill Clinton in the impeachment trial," along with "Republican appointments to the US Supreme Court who gave us Roe v. Wade." Smith was an outspoken advocate for the president's impeachment by the House and conviction by the Senate last winter.

Smith also accused the GOP of having "failed us when they voted to give Bill Clinton the authority to conduct a war in the Balkans which was not in the interest of the United States and risk the lives of our men and women in the military"

Smith has also not been shy about reminding his GOP colleagues of the fate of the American Whig Party. The Whigs, originally opposed to slavery, began to modify their position, resulting in the departure from the party of then-Congressman Abraham Lincoln, who later went on to lead the Republican Party in 1860 as the Whig Party slipped into obscurity.

"The Whig Party was anti-slavery, but they said 'let's put slavery aside and focus on electing more Whigs,'" said Smith in a May 2, 1999 speech in New Hampshire. "Many in the Republican Party today say we should 'put abortion aside and focus on electing more Republicans.' But, the right to life is the moral issue of our day."