Former Sen. Bob Smith (R-NH) announced Sunday that he will again seek the Senate seat he lost in a 2002 primary. Smith, who left the Republican Party in 1999 to pursue a right-wing independent presidential run and returned 111 days later when a plum committee chairmanship came open, will seek the GOP nomination to challenge Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D).
Smith has a rather unusual political history. After becoming the first elected Republican to be denied renomination to his Senate seat since 1980 — losing a 2002 primary to now-former Sen. John E. Sununu (R) — he moved to Florida and mounted unsuccessful Senate runs there in 2004 and 2010. Now, the 72-year-old Smith says he will move back to New Hampshire to run there.
But while Smith worked in a bipartisan fashion in the Senate on environmental issues, he teamed up with arch-conservatives like Jesse Helms (R-NC) to advance a far-right social agenda over his two terms in the Senate.
Here are five things to everyone should know about Smith:
1. He rabidly opposed the “homosexual lifestyle.” As a Senator, Smith opposed LGBT equality at every opportunity — voting to keep anti-gay employment discrimination legal, opposing hate crimes protections, and refusing to even institute a non-discrimination policy for his own employees. Worse, he joined with Helms to oppose any federal funding for schools that “encourage homosexuality,” by teaching about LGBT families in an inclusive way. Calling such messages “trash,” he asked his colleagues in 1994 why federal tax dollars would be spent to “advocate and encourage the homosexual lifestyle in the curriculae of public schools in this country?” He proposed that “if a public school decides and the parents in that school district decide that this is appropriate in their school system — I cannot imagine why they would — but if they did or they do, fine. You just do not get any federal dollars.” He also joined with Helms to propose special protections for the Boy Scouts of America’s right to discriminate, warning “Rome died from a lot less than this. When you dilute your moral code to this extent, and if this keeps up, the obituary for America is going to be written.” He opposed confirmation of openly LGBT nominees, saying that sending Ambassador James Hormel to Luxembourg was “like sending Louis Farrakhan to Israel,” and that confirming Roberta Achtenberg as Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development could lead to America becoming “a society cast off from our moral underpinnings and set adrift.”
2. He waved a plastic fetus on the Senate floor in opposition to abortion rights. A self-described “consistent pro-life leader with a perfect pro-life voting record for his entire 13 years in Congress,” Smith was the author of a proposed constitutional amendment to grant equal legal rights to fetuses and to ban all abortions not necessary to save the life of the pregnant woman, even in cases of rape and incest. In 1995, he used a plastic fetus doll and pointed scissors as props as he demonstrated how late-term abortions are performed — part of his argument against confirmation of a surgeon general nominee who had performed abortions. In his unsuccessful 2000 campaign for the presidency, he promised that he “WOULD have a litmus test for the Supreme Court” on the issue of abortion, telling voters, that “abortion is the moral outrage of the 20th Century, and I will end it in the 21st century because it is wrong.” In a 2008 interview with Chuck Baldwin, Smith compared abortion to slavery.
3. He voted repeatedly against background checks for gun purchases. Smith, who believes in an “absolute” right to bear arms, voted against the 1993 Brady law which established instant background checks for gun purchasers. He voted against a 1999 proposal to require background checks on guns purchased at all gun shows. In his 2000 presidential campaign kickoff speech, he promised to repeal all “infringments on our Second Amendment liberties.”
4. He lead the charge to block Elián González from being reunited with his father. In 2000, Smith was one of the most active politicians attempting to prevent the return of a Cuban child whose mother drowned when attempting to bring him to the United States. Smith “fought tirelessly” against the Clinton administration’s efforts to return Elián González to the custody of his father, who planned to return with his son to Cuba. Smith proposed a “private bill” aiming to grant Elián and some of his other relatives permanent residence in the United States — a bill his father opposed as perpetuating “the arbitrary retention” of his son. In November 2013 remarks, González lamented that efforts by these and other efforts to prevent his return to Cuba violated his “right to be together with my father, the right to keep my nationality and to remain in my cultural context.”
5. He wants abolish federal agencies and withdraw from international organizations. Smith has long supported the abolition of the U.S. Department of Education, preferring to institute school vouchers for private and parochial schools and to co-sponsoring amend the constitution to allow school prayer. He believes that the National Endowment for the Arts is unconstitutional. Smith also recommended that the United States should withdraw from the United Nations and possibly also abandon NATO.
Smith was well to the right of most of his Republican colleagues. When he briefly left the GOP in 1999, he complained that too often, he was alone in defending the GOP’s conservative platform and principals. “Only one [Senator] — right here, Bob Smith — voted against funding for the U.N.,” he noted, adding that he was just one of three Senators to oppose the confirmation of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg to the Supreme Court. Smith was also one of just 27 Senators to vote against the Family and Medical Leave Act and one of just three to vote against the Ryan White AIDS funding bill.
In his unsuccessful 2002 re-election campaign, Smith highlighted endorsements from Islamaphobe Frank Gaffney, fringe gun-rights advocate Larry Pratt, anti-Equal Rights Amendment icon Phyllis Schlafly, and now-disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff.