In mid-March, the Northeast Republican Leadership Conference – organized by the New Hampshire state GOP – will feature a cast of establishment party leaders in Nashua like Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former Ambassador John Bolton, New York Rep. Peter King and home state Sen. Kelly Ayotte.
Almost precisely one month later in April, conservative groups Americans for Prosperity and Citizens United are joining forces for the inaugural “Freedom Summit” in Manchester. Their guest list includes Sens. Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Mike Lee – three freshman who have gained notoriety for their willingness to buck party hierarchy – as well as former presidential candidate insurgents Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich and the inimitable Donald Trump.
While both events are attracting a share of aspiring White House candidates, comparatively, the outside groups are winning when it comes to netting the star power of the moment – and they aren’t bashful about boasting about it.
“It’s the who’s who. Who do they have coming?,” asked Citizens United President David Bossie, hardly holding back a snicker as he heard the list of names for the state party event. “I heard about it, but nobody’s talking about it.”
Tickets for the daylong April 12 summit – scheduled purposely on the weekend before tax day – were gone within 24 hours, ahead of the addition of Cruz as an announced speaker.
Now organizers are seeking ways to add overflow space to the 500 initial seats.
“There’s no question that a Republican event would attract more partisans and an AFP event would attract more conservatives, meaning an ideology over a party,” says Greg Moore, the New Hampshire-based organizer for Americans for Prosperity.
Multiple spokesmen for the “Freedom Summit” declined to reveal the complete invite list to their event, but Moore indicated that one potential 2016 candidate was again taking a pass.
“Sen. [Marco] Rubio has indicated he has a conflict,” Moore confirms, noting they are still waiting to hear back from Ayotte and Jindal.
Bossie is more direct about the goal of the gathering in the first in the nation primary state: to fire another flare that the conservative wing of the party where the energy remains.
“We felt like there’s a vacuum of leadership,” he says, citing the latest debt ceiling deal spearheaded by GOP leadership as an example of his frustration.
Granite State GOP executive director Matt Mowers says the party is still working on locking down a few bigger names, but stressed their event is more trade show and less cattle call.
“We’re offering a bunch of grass roots training and panel discussions,” he says.
And it’s true that Paul and Cruz each headlined state party events last year and have already offered to do more down the road this year.
But right now, an ambitious politician is more likely to reach a larger audience outside the party tent.
While Mowers estimated the party’s leadership conference would draw between 200 and 400 people, the “Freedom Summit” is preparing for more than double that crowd.
“We’re on track between somewhere 800 and 1,000,” Moore says. “Once you have it here in New Hampshire, there’s a natural energy that just snowballs.”