Former House Speaker O'Brien seeking US Senate seat

Former House Speaker O'Brien seeking US Senate seat
FILE - In this Dec. 16, 2014, file photo, state Rep. Bill O'Brien speaks to Republicans in this photo taken through a window of a closed door caucus at the Statehouse in Concord, N.H. O'Brien, the former House Speaker, plans to announce on Tuesday, July 23, 2019, that he will challenge incumbent Democrat Sen. Jeanne Shaheen in the 2020 general election. (AP Photo/Jim Cole, File)

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Republican Bill O’Brien launched his campaign Tuesday to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, accusing her of catering to the “liberal elite” while emphasizing his experience as a businessman and former speaker of the New Hampshire House.

O’Brien is one of two Republicans seeking their party’s nomination for the seat Shaheen has held for two terms. The other, Retired Brig. General Don Bolduc, announced his campaign last month. Ahead of an evening announcement rally in Manchester, O’Brien unveiled his campaign website early Tuesday, calling himself a “common sense conservative and lover of freedom” and contrasting Shaheen’s record with his position on a range of issues, including immigration, health care and the economy.

“As New Hampshire’s Speaker of the House I helped lead the charge on many of these issues: cutting government red tape which would kill jobs and helping streamline agencies so we could support New Hampshire’s job creators,” he said on his website. “As a successful small businessman and job creator, I know that supporting our small businesses in New Hampshire is critical to fueling innovation and creating an economic environment which helps all job creators, large and small.”

A former attorney, O’Brien now owns a tech company that helps businesses and organizations safeguard their privacy. He said while Shaheen has repeatedly voted against the interests of small businesses, he will put the state’s job creators first. He also accuses Shaheen of encouraging illegal immigration by voting to shield so-called sanctuary cities, and called getting control of the southern border step one in solving the nation’s opioid crisis.

“When it comes to illegal immigration, I simply believe illegal is illegal,” his website states. “I will support fixing our border including building a stronger, longer wall.”

O’Brien was elected to the House in 2004 and served six terms. He served one term as speaker after the 2010 election, but lost the position in 2014 when a coalition of Democrats and Republicans came together to oppose him. Further showcasing the fractured caucus, O’Brien unsuccessfully tried to change House rules so he could become majority leader and then opened an office down the street from the Statehouse for his appointed leadership team.

As speaker, O’Brien oversaw significant budget cuts, including nearly 50% of the state money for the university system. His campaign website characterizes his tenure as a fight for “personal freedom, liberty and economic growth” and a successful effort to eliminate wasteful spending.

The seat he’s seeking is seen a possible Republican pickup in 2020 following Shaheen’s competitive 2014 reelection race and fellow Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan’s tight win over an incumbent Republican in 2016. But the GOP’s prospects dimmed in May when the state’s leading Republican, Gov. Chris Sununu, decided to seek reelection instead of challenging Shaheen.

Democrats on Tuesday were quick to both defend Shaheen and highlight O’Brien’s support for President Donald Trump. In an email, state Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley said voters won’t buy O’Brien’s attacks because they know Shaheen and the difference she has made in their families’ lives.

“New Hampshire voters remember O’Brien was a mirror image of Donald Trump before Trump ever ran for President. In office, they both made sabotaging the Affordable Care Act, defunding Planned Parenthood, and undermining voting rights their top priorities,” he said. “This primary will be nasty, but if there are two things Bill O’Brien is capable of, it’s throwing a political punch and supporting everything Trump does.”