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In an interview with The Hill, Smith said he’d already seen a surge of support for his candidacy.
“I think I’m going to surprise some people with what I’ll have in the bank,” said Smith, whose fourth-quarter fundraising disclosures will be closely watched at the end of December.
Smith’s entry into the race on Sunday was a surprise.
The former senator, 72, lives for much of the year in Florida and since his 2002 defeat in a Republican primary in New Hampshire, has twice run to represent the Sunshine State in the Senate.
Many in New Hampshire are focused on a different ex-Republican senator from another state: Scott Brown. He’s been mulling a New Hampshire bid and raised eyebrows this weekend when he removed “MA” from his Twitter handle.
“I don’t have a clue what Scott Brown’s going to do,” said Smith, who added that Brown’s decision wouldn’t affect his own entry to the race.
Former state Sen. Jim Rubens and conservative activist Karen Testerman are already in the GOP primary, but Smith said that doesn’t make a difference to him.
“I never made a decision based on who’s in and who’s out. To me it’s about what I believe that I can do in terms of providing leadership to change the course of our country,” he said.
He said he hasn’t spoken to Brown, who was defeated by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) in 2012, but acknowledged: “if Scott Brown runs against me, it could be an interesting race.”
Many see Brown, who has spoken at GOP fundraisers and campaigned for candidates in New Hampshire, as a strong opponent for Shaheen, who Republicans believe is vulnerable.
One Washington Republican said Smith wasn’t on the radar and directed The Hill to a petition seeking to draft Brown into the race.
Doubts about Smith start with his rejection by GOP voters in the 2002 primary.
First elected to the Senate in 1990, Smith served two terms but was defeated in his bid for a third term by John E. Sununu, who was beaten six years later by Shaheen.
Smith was ousted in part due to frustration with Smith over his long-shot presidential bid in 1999.
After failing to gain traction in a GOP primary, Smith under the banners of two other parties before eventually endorsing George W. Bush for president. He also ran as an independent at one point.
Smith’s two short-lived Senate bids in Florida, which he dismissed to The Hill as unserious “trial-balloons,” might also not help his case with voters in New Hampshire.
Smith insists he’s taking the New Hampshire race seriously and can win.
In the two days since making it known he’s in the race, he said he had received $50,000 in pledged donations from supporters, some of whom committed the maximum amount allowed by law for his campaign.
He declined to set a fundraising goal but insisted that the money woes that plagued his Florida Senate bids won’t be an issue this time.
Shaheen has $3.8 million in the bank, but Smith said he’s “not worried about catching up, I’m just worried about raising and spending what I need.”
He pledged to run a lean campaign, and said he doesn’t “intend to pay a lot of high-priced consultants and pollsters.”
He’s planning to move back to New Hampshire, where he owns a home and spends part of the year, over the Christmas holiday and will formally launch his bid in January.
Smith described his appeal in somewhat quirky terms, telling The Hill that he sees his role as a candidate as “motivat[ing] young freedom-loving conservatives who are not happy with the way the country is going” to get involved in politics. And at a time when dissatisfaction with Washington is at historic highs, Smith said he sees his time there as an asset.
“I think that’s clearly one of my strengths — the fact that I have led, I have been there before in terms of leading on many conservative issues,” he said.