She may look like a rosy-cheeked grandma, but Monier is among New Hampshire’s best-connected Republican activists. At one time, she had President Ronald Reagan’s personal telephone number. Monier, the widow of a former state Senate president, ultimately served in the Reagan administration and later in state government.
To say she is a campaign veteran is an understatement.
She was a strong Romney supporter in the past election cycle. But his first scheduled event in New Hampshire this year isn’t until March 5. In Romney’s absence, she decided to back Santorum, who named Monier his New Hampshire state chairwoman this month.
“I think Santorum is just as smart as Mitt Romney. He’s also far more personable. He can connect with more ordinary people,” she told Roll Call, describing Romney as “robotic” at times.
But Monier admitted there’s another reason she left Romney’s camp.
“Santorum’s here working New Hampshire,” she said. “I haven’t seen Mitt Romney. He hasn’t asked me. Santorum asked me.”
Monier reported that Santorum has visited New Hampshire nine times in recent months, with three more visits booked.
It doesn’t matter that Santorum was trounced by 18 points in 2006, unseated by now-Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.). He has an opportunity to become a favorite of New Hampshire conservatives simply by working harder and earlier than the others who might fill that role.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee locked up that position in 2008, when he exceeded expectations and earned respect by finishing third in the nation’s first GOP primary. But there has been no word from him so far this cycle.
In fact, Huckabee’s former state chairman, Cliff Hurst, told Roll Call that he had recently committed to Pawlenty, who has traveled to New Hampshire six times since last winter, including a two-day tour last week.
Hurst, the chairman of the Manchester Republican Committee, described Huckabee as a “close friend,” but he said that wasn’t enough.
“I just think that Pawlenty is a better fit for New Hampshire and the country,” Hurst said, noting that he was among a group recently invited to Minnesota to visit with Pawlenty.
Activists such as Hurst and Monier should not be underestimated, Lamontagne said.
“To the extent that other campaigns take New Hampshire for granted, you’re going to lose the Claira Moniers of this election cycle, who are opinion leaders in their own right,” he said. “She doesn’t decide the election outcome, but she can help to network and to build a coalition. She’s a seasoned pro.”
“If you wait, you start to lose the players,” Lamontagne said.
Perhaps the most high-profile absence this cycle is Sarah Palin.
Going Rogue or Sitting Out?
The former Alaska governor last made New Hampshire headlines by endorsing Kelly Ayotte’s ultimately successful Senate bid (beating Lamontagne) last fall. But Palin never visited the state on Ayotte’s behalf. In fact, local Republicans say she hasn’t been to New Hampshire in more than two years.