7/15/14--Senate candidate Bob Smith speaks at an interview at the New Hampshire Union Leader in Manchester on July 15, 2014. DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER
Former U.S. Sen. Bob Smith always did things his way, from championing the immigration of Cuban child Elian Gonzalez to denouncing the Senate's Republican leadership on the Senate floor.
Today, he believes he can run a primary campaign for the U.S. Senate without spending millions of dollars but by targeting his party's grass roots, mixing it up in debates, using social media and forgoing major television and radio advertising.
Smith says he is the only major candidate in the Republican primary to adhere to the GOP platform, including its pro-life and pro-gun planks.
Calling himself a constitutional conservative, Smith says he will win on principle, just as Ronald Reagan did in winning his elective offices.
"If you're not willing to stand on the principles of the party with the nominee, what is the point of it all?" Smith said in an interview at the New Hampshire Union Leader. "This country is in trouble because we don't stand on principle."
He says he has a long record of service that anyone can review, "the good, bad and ugly," contending he is the best Republican candidate to draw the bright line of distinction between his party and Democrats.
Taking aim at the perceived front-runner in the primary - former Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Scott Brown - Smith said nominating a moderate candidate would mask what should be distinctions with incumbent U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.
The key issues for the general election campaign, Smith said, need to be the budget and taxes, including Social Security reform; curtailing regulations that cost jobs, such as the Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Act; and securing the country's borders with technological surveillance, not walls.
Referring to the influx of children into the country along the southern border, he said, "We have laws and we need to enforce them, but we're not dealing with people in power who want to stop it."
But Smith draws a distinction between himself and a past Republican administration on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"We have to accept the fact that nation building does not work," Smith said, alluding to the current situation in Iraq, where radical Islamists have taken over sections of the country.
He called the invasion of Iraq a terrible mistake by the Bush administration that has been compounded by the Obama administration.
"We cannot be boots on the ground and nation build at the same time, it will not work," Smith said. "We're losing too much blood and treasure. We have to leave. We can't win that war, at least not the way we are fighting it."
This is not the first time Smith has had a different view from that of his party. He disagreed with then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott because he was working with the Clinton administration, and he denounced the Republican leadership on the floor.
Smith also backed Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in 2004, saying he was angry with President Bush and Bush adviser Carl Rove for telling him they would support him in a primary with former U.S. Sen. John E. Sununu and then reneging.
"I did not vote for (Kerry)," Smith maintained. Instead, he endorsed Kerry in a personal letter to the candidate, who made it public.
Last month, Smith was upset about a unity letter sent to the candidates by state Republican Party Chairman Jennifer Horn, accusing her and Brown's campaign of collusion.
Speaking at the Union Leader, Smith said, "The national Republicans, and by that I mean the NRC and the Senate committee, have made it very clear who they want."
He noted that he, conservative activist Karen Testerman and former state Sen. Jim Rubens were all actively campaigning before Brown publicly considered entering the race. National party leaders "were looking somewhere else," Smith said. "I guess we were not good enough."
Despite his misgivings, Smith says the Republican Party is the only hope for real change in America. "We're going to lose this country if we keep going," he said.
The country needs to return to fiscal responsibility, do away with tregulations that are driving companies overseas and let the free-market economy do its work, Smith said.
"The Democrats are so far to the left, we're the only party that can do it," he said, "but we're not going to do it, in all due respect, with a Scott Brown Republican."
There is the perception that for Republicans to win a general election, they need to nominate a moderate, he said, but he questioned what that would accomplish.
"If you want to win, win on principle," Smith said. "If you want to win to win a seat so you get to vote against Harry Reid and lose all the rest of your votes, then Brown's your man."
Smith served three terms in the U.S. House and was twice elected to the U.S. Senate before he lost to Sununu in the Republican primary in 2002. He recently moved back to Tuftonboro after having spent 11 years as a Florida resident.
"I feel I can make a difference with my experience in the Senate," Smith said, "I know how it works."