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Smith: Leaving GOP 'on principle'

Presidential bid continues; may seek third party nomination

July 12, 1999
Web posted at: 11:03 p.m. EDT (0303 GMT)

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, July 9) -- Sen. Bob Smith announced Monday that he is leaving the Republican Party over philosophical differences and will pursue an independent party bid for the presidency.


In this story:

Possible run with U.S. Taxpayer Party
Mixed GOP reaction
Senate standing in jeopardy

The senator from New Hampshire told CNN's "Larry King Live" on Monday that he will make a formal announcement on the Senate floor at 2:15 p.m. ET Tuesday.

"It was a tough decision ... the Republican Party platform (is) a good platform ... but I cannot tolerate people walking away from it," said Smith, who has no plans to resign his seat.

Smith
Smith announced he will leave the Republican Party and become an Independent  

Smith, 58, said he was leaving not because of his lagging presidential campaign, but because of his objection to the direction of the party's mainstream, which has softened its position on abortion and gun control.

"The elitists of the party ... believe that electing people with an (R) next to their name is more important than principle," Smith said.

"I came to the Republican Party on principle, and I'm leaving on principle," he said.

Possible run with U.S. Taxpayer Party

He hinted that he might form his own party, or run as a candidate for the U.S. Taxpayer Party.

"I'm certainly interested," he said. "They're conservative like I am, they believe in the right-to-life ... (and) that taxpayers are paying too much."

Polls show Smith's support in the crowded GOP primary in the low single digits. Even in his native New Hampshire, Smith badly trailed Texas Gov. George W. Bush in public opinion polls for the GOP presidential nomination.

Smith denied that his resignation is an attempt to jump-start his campaign.

"Pollsters are not the issue here. Pollsters are the issue in the sense that they're leading us by the nose everywhere. That's not leadership," he said.

Mixed GOP reaction

Republican leaders wasted little time in criticizing Smith's expected move when his intentions become public last week.

"This is a selfish move, and it is doomed to failure. It signals the end of his political career in New Hampshire," state GOP Chairman Steve Duprey said Friday.

Republican National Committee Chairman Jim Nicholson was more careful in his choice of words.

In a letter to Smith, Nicholson wrote: "I believe this would be a serious mistake for you personally, with only a marginal political impact -- and a counterproductive one at that."

But other Republicans were respectful of Smith's decision.

"I think the problem is not with Senator Smith, who's a good man and fine senator. I think the problem might be right here in Washington with the Republican establishment," GOP presidential contender Pat Buchanan said last week.

Another Republican presidential hopeful, Rep. John Kasich of Ohio, said: "He's got strong convictions. Maybe he's thinking that is what he's got to do."

Senate standing in jeopardy

In addition to lower taxes and laws against abortion, Smith supports a strong national defense and school prayer.

Smith also has criticized other Republicans for saying the party must soften its hard-line position on gun control in order to have a chance of winning the White House in 2000.

Smith was supported by 1 percent of Republicans in the latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, well behind virtually every other candidate in a field dominated by Bush.

The second-term senator said he would not resign his Senate seat even if he runs as a member of a third party and loses. But he could have a hard time getting re-elected in 2002 without GOP support.

As senator, Smith is chairman of the ethics committee, as well as a member of the Judiciary, Armed Services and Environment and Public Works.

With Smith's resignation, it will now be up to the GOP caucus to decide whether to protect his seniority rights on committees.


CAMPAIGN 2000

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Arizona governor endorses Bush over McCain (9-28-99)

Bradley unveils $65 billion plan for universal health care (9-28-99)

Gore receives endorsements of Shaquille O'Neal and Bill Cosby (9-28-99)

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