Building Character From Personal Tragedy
My life changed forever on March 28, 1945. My dad, a naval aviator, was killed on that date in a military aircraft crash into the Chesapeake Bay off Oceana Naval Air Station, Virginia. It was two days before my fourth birthday. Donald E. Smith joined the U.S. Navy as a seaman, during the darkest days of the Depression in 1932. He told the recruiter that he wanted to join the navy to “learn a trade.”
After serving in the fleet, Seaman Smith was accepted to the Naval Academy Prep School and then entered the Naval Academy in 1934. Upon graduation from Annapolis in 1938, Smith went on to flight school at Pensacola and flew numerous combat missions in the North Atlantic and South Pacific during World War II. He had risen to the rank of Lt. Commander and had been sent home from the war and assigned a Squadron Command at Oceana ten days before he was killed.
Like so many military families touched by the tragedy of war, my mom did her best to pull her life together. She brought my brother and me back to New Jersey where her parents owned a small farm near Trenton. My widowed mother worked hard as a department store clerk and cashier for an insurance company to support her young children with the aid of her parents. Tragedy promoted patriotism and my mother never let my brother and me forget that our dad was a hero, not only to his family, but his country.
What might have been a life of travel from duty station to duty station as part of a navy family would now become more predictable for me. I learned about hard, physical, farm labor, but I also learned about responsibility. My character, values and patriotism were molded by my mother and grandparents on that farm over the next decade.
I also learned about politics at an early age from my grandfather, who was a rock solid Republican. I learned so well that as an eleven year old, I bet my neighbor a chicken that General Eisenhower would defeat Adlai Stevenson in the 1952 election. Ike and I both won and I proudly claimed my chicken. My political career was off and running!
Navy Veteran Of Vietnam
I followed in my father’s footsteps and joined the U.S. Naval Reserve during the Cuban Missile Crisis. After I graduated from Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania in 1965 with a Political Science Degree in Government and History, I served on active duty with the Navy for two years. One of those years was aboard the USS NAVASOTA (AO-107) in the Gulf of Tonkin during the Vietnam War. Prior to deployment, I married my college sweetheart, Mary Jo Hutchinson. After returning home from Vietnam, I taught school in California for a while and then we settled in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire in 1970.
Life in a small town was good. I taught American history and government and coached football and baseball at the high school level. In a few years I left teaching and purchased and managed a small real estate firm.
Mary Jo and I raised our three children in New Hampshire.
Reagan Ignites My Passion For Public Service
Living in the “Live Free or Die”, conservative, state of New Hampshire with the “First in the Nation Primary” re-kindled my political interest.
I ran for local school board and won three times, serving as chairman for 2 terms. In 1976 a governor from the state of California decided to enter the New Hampshire Primary to challenge then President Gerald Ford. I remembered Ronald Reagan as that courageous conservative, who led California during our years living there after returning from Vietnam. I immediately became a volunteer and watched in awe, as he came within a few delegates of wresting the nomination from Ford at the 1976 Republican Convention.
I knew Reagan would be back in the fight in 1980 and it was his effort to “restore America” which motivated me to run for Congress in New Hampshire in 1980. Reagan became President of the United States that year, but it would take Bob Smith three attempts to finally be elected to the Congress in 1984, joining Reagan in his second term. I was excited to be part of the Reagan team in the fight to build up our national defense, enhance world security by challenging Soviet Communism around the globe, to cut taxes and to inspire us to face the challenges of the future with optimism.
United States Congressman, New Hampshire (1985-1990)
Service on Veterans Affairs Committee and Science and Technology Committee
I entered the Congress in 1985 thrilled to be a part of the “Reagan Revolution”, but I soon realized that a freshman Republican congressman in a hopeless minority would have little hope of changing things. Then I met Newt Gingrich and became part of the Conservative Opportunity Society (COS). Judd Gregg (NH), Bob Walker (PA), Connie Mack (FL), Trent Lott (MS), Duncan Hunter (CA), Vin Weber (MN), Dan Burton (IN), Newt, myself and very few others held our meetings in a small room on Capitol Hill each week to devise a strategy to win back the House of Representatives. We wrote a book called “A House of ILL Repute” and fought for the next ten years, until victory was ours in 1994 with the Republican takeover of the House in the “Contract With America.”
I left the House in 1990 when I was elected to the U. S. Senate from New Hampshire, but I was always proud of my involvement in the “cause” in the early years of my political career. We stood on principle and we won elections in both the House and the Senate. The highlights of my House and Senate career are listed below and further amplification on these issues may be found in other locations on the website.
United States Senator, New Hampshire, (1991-2003)
Service on the following Senate Committees:
- Environment and Public Works Committee, Chairman 1999-2001, Ranking Member 2001-2003
- Ethics Committee, Chairman (two years)Armed Services Committee, Member, 1991-2003
- Chairman Acquisition and Technology Subcommittee of Senate Armed Services Committee (Responsible for oversight and budget for all new military technology programs)
- Chairman Strategic Forces Subcommittee of Senate Armed Services Committee (Had direct oversight and budget responsibility for missile defense systems and offensive missile platforms such as submarines, aircraft and land launchers)
- Member Judiciary Committee (Participated in hearings for all federal judicial nominations)
- Voted for Justice Thomas and voted against Justices Ginsberg and Breyer
Awards and honors Highlights
- Airline Security Award from the Allied Pilots Association for supporting guns in the cockpits
- Golden Gavel Award for chairing the U.S. Senate for over 100 hours
- National Security Leadership Award for votes promoting a strong national defense
- National Taxpayers’ Union Best Friend Award for votes saving taxpayer dollars
- Bill of Rights Defender of the Year Award presented by Gun Owners of America for defending the Second Amendment
- League of Private Property Voters for promoting and protecting private property rights
- Numerous awards from American Legion, Disabled Veterans and other veterans groups for work on POW/MIA accounting and overall support of veterans issues
- Nationally recognized by Humane Society of the United States and other groups for introducing and passing legislation for the prevention of animal abuse
- Ranked in the top 5 percent of the House and Senate as one of the most conservative members on social, economic and military issues
- Pro-Life Leader in the House and Senate for 18 years
Run For President In 1999-2000
In 1999 I entered the race for the 2000 Republican nomination for President of the United States. I campaigned extensively in the early primary and caucus states of New Hampshire, Iowa and Louisiana. Also in that race among others were Pat Buchanan, Gary Bauer and, of course, George W. Bush.
I picked up thousands of supporters and contributions along the trail, but as the months wore on, it became apparent that the Republican Primary voters wanted Bush. In the summer of 1999 I withdrew from the race and endorsed then Governor, George W. Bush of Texas.
Leaving The Republican Party
In my Senate duties I became increasingly frustrated with the Republican Party leaders and officials who were constantly refusing to fight some of the extreme liberal appointments of President Bill Clinton on key administration positions, especially liberal activist federal judges, such as Ruth Bader Ginsberg. I was one of only THREE senators to vote against putting her on the Supreme Court.
I simply could not understand why senators who claimed to be “conservative Republicans” would vote for Ginsberg. In addition Clinton was pushing his aggressive gun control agenda in the Congress and Republican leaders were content to let much of it pass, when we could have easily blocked it.
Furthermore, most Republicans left it to me, and a very few others, to fight the pro-life battles as many were afraid of the political consequences.
At this point I made a decision which would have a dramatic impact on my political career. I resigned from the Republican Party and became an Independent. I did not plan to make this a final move. My objective was to “shake up” Republicans. In my Senate floor speech (which is posted on my website), when I resigned from the party, I warned my colleagues and the entire Republican hierarchy, that, if you continue to place your politics above your principles, the American people will soon figure it out and banish you from power.
While an independent, I always supported the principles of the Republican Party. It is interesting to note that while the leadership often lost the support of such “Republicans” as Senators Jeffords, Snowe, Collins and Specter, my voting record was consistently over 98% in support of Republican Party principles.
Unfortunately, I was proven correct regarding the voter’s reaction. Although President Bush won two close elections, the Republicans in Congress made the same mistakes their Democrat predecessors made. They had scandals, arrogance prevailed, debt and spending rose, government grew larger, we did nothing to secure our borders and the Rove strategy of division and special interest politics failed miserably, causing us to lose the House and Senate and finally the White House in 2008.
Returning To The Republican Party
After four months, I felt that I had made my point and I informed Senator Lott that I felt that I could fight for the principles of the Republican Party more effectively from within rather than outside the party. Sadly, just days after informing leadership of my decision to return, Senator John Chafee passed away suddenly. Republican party leaders, to their credit, decided to allow me to keep my seniority on all committees and I was selected Chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee.
I then “plunged” into my Senate work and the election of George W. Bush as President. I campaigned extensively and raised money for him in New Hampshire where he won a very close election. As we turned the page into 2001, I was beginning to “gear up” for my re-election campaign in 2002. However, the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington put my campaign on hold in September of 2001 as, like the rest of America, I was focused on responding to the aftermath of that terrible and tragic attack on our nation’s homeland.
My 2002 Republican Senate Primary
I knew that I would have a tough general election opponent in Democrat Governor Jeanne Shaheen. Since the Republicans accepted me back into their Senate ranks and my active support for the election of President Bush, I was confident that my loyalty would be repaid with the full support of President Bush and the Republican Party establishment in my re-election. I was wrong.
Just a couple of weeks after the 9/11 attacks, Congressman John Sununu announced he was going to run in against me in the Republican primary election in 2002. President Bush and I had a good relationship even though we were opponents in the 2000 Presidential primary. As stated earlier, I had supported him and raised money for him in the 2000 general election for President. In addition I had nearly a 100 percent record of support in nearly 18 years in the House and Senate in support of the core conservative issues of our party.
I felt very comfortable asking Karl Rove, the President’s Deputy Chief of Staff and top political operative, for an endorsement in the primary. A few days later he informed me that “the President would in fact endorse my re-election in the primary, that he would do so publicly and help me to raise money.” I relayed my gratitude to the President. Karl Rove then came to NH and in direct response to a reporter’s public question stated “that President Bush would endorse Senator Smith as soon as the filing period had ended.” After my opponent subsequently filed against me and I inquired about the President’s endorsement I was tersely informed “It is not going to happen.”
This signal to the establishment of the state and national Republican Party to work against me or withhold support was the major reason I lost the primary. When people ask me why this happened, I can only guess that they thought my opponent’s poll numbers against then-Governor Shaheen were better than mine and they did not want to lose the seat.
I believed then and believe now that “winning is not winning”, if you sacrifice loyalty and principles in the process. My frustration and anger and what I perceived to be a betrayal caused me to send a “letter of endorsement” to John Kerry in the 2004 Presidential election race. It was a stupid mistake. I do not support John Kerry on any significant issues. I did something in anger and I apologize for it. If some want to hold this against me, I fully understand.
In any case, that is the past and the future is what matters. I do not hold any grudges. As Willie Nelson says in one of his songs,
“I find it easy to forgive, but forgetting seems to take the longest time.”
This election is about rising to the challenges of the future not dwelling on the past. I am running for US Senate again because I believe that I have the qualifications and leadership qualities to meet those critical challenges and lead our nation forward.
The 2002 primary was a bitter election battle and a devastating personal loss for Mary Jo and me. However we still maintained our New Hampshire home on Lake Winnipesaukee which was then and is now our family compound. After watching with dismay these past several years as Republicans seem to have lost their way and then seeing the results of the 2008 and 2012 elections, I could no longer stand on the sidelines and watch. I need to get back into the arena. I believe that my background as a former U.S. Senator is a unique opportunity for New Hampshire to benefit from my experience and leadership on the major issues facing our nation and our state today.
That is why I am running again for the U.S. Senate. Among other issues, I intend to focus on repealing Obama Care, laying out a plan to balance our budget and reduce the nation’s debt, replacing the current tax code with a fairer less complicated system, reducing the size of government, enhancing our national security, providing assistance for veterans and our troops and ending illegal immigration.
While others will tell you what they will do, I invite you to review my website and see what I have done. New Hampshire and our nation needs more than anything else at this moment in history, a passionate, principled, no-nonsense, proven conservative leader, not another politician. Check out my record and I hope you will agree that I can, have and will always put principle above politics as your United States Senator. I am asking you to join me in the spirit of Ronald Reagan and rise to the challenges we face in a positive campaign. We are Americans. We can meet any challenge as we defend our freedoms and values!
I look forward to meeting you on the campaign trail. I would be honored to have your support! Thank you.
- Senator Bob Smith