‘He Absolutely Loved New Hampshire’: Remembering President George H.W. Bush

  • U.S. President George H. Bush jokes with his chief of staff John Sununu, before addressing the National Governors Conference in Chicago, Monday, July 31, 1989. Sununu, former governor of New Hampshire, was in familiar surroundings after serving as the National Governors Association chairman in 1988. (AP Photo/Ralf-Finn Hestoft) AP file

  • U.S. President George H. Bush gestures to newsmen as he leaves the White House in Washington, Monday, morning, July 31, 1989, heading for Chicago to address the National Governors Association. With the President is White House Chief of Staff John Sununu. (AP Photo/Barry Thumma) ap file photographs

  • Former President George H.W. Bush (right) waves after greeting 1st Congressional District candidate John E. Sununu and his wife, Catherine, in Rye on Sunday, Sept. 29, 1996. MARCIA CURTIS

  • President George H. W. Bush gestures as he paid a drop-by on Saturday, March 18, 1989 in Washington at a St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital charity dinner in honor of White House Chief of Staff John Sununu, standing center. At left is actor Danny Thomas, who is active in the St. Jude's Hospital charities. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer) President George H. W. Bush and his chief of staff, John Sununu, in Washington on March 18, 1989. Rick Bowmer

  • Pres. George H. W. Bush (left) stands with Supreme Court nominee David Souter (right) and Sen. Warren Rudman, R-N.H., at Pease Air Force Base on July 27, 1990. Dennis Cook

  • FILE - In this Feb. 6, 2007, file photo, former President George H.W. Bush arrives at the 2007 Ronald Reagan Freedom Award gala dinner held in his honor in Beverly Hills, Calif. Bush has died at age 94. Family spokesman Jim McGrath says Bush died shortly after 10 p.m. Friday, Nov. 30, 2018, about eight months after the death of his wife, Barbara Bush. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles, File) Matt Sayles

  • FILE - In this Dec. 18, 1970, file photo, newly appointed United Nations Ambassador George H. Bush smiles. Bush has died at age 94. Family spokesman Jim McGrath says Bush died shortly after 10 p.m. Friday, Nov. 30, 2018, about eight months after the death of his wife, Barbara Bush. (AP Photo/John Duricka, File) John Duricka

  • FILE - In this Jan. 7, 2009, file photo, former President George H. W. Bush, left, walks with his wife, former first lady Barbara Bush, followed by their son, President George W. Bush, and his wife first lady Laura Bush, to a reception in honor of the Points of Light Institute, in the East Room at the White House in Washington. Bush died at the age of 94 on Friday, Nov. 30, 2018, about eight months after the death of his wife, Barbara Bush. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File) Manuel Balce Ceneta

  • FILE - In this June 5, 1989 file photo, U.S. President George H.W. Bush holds a news conference at the White House in Washington where he condemned the Chinese crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. Bush died at the age of 94 on Friday, Nov. 30, 2018, about eight months after the death of his wife, Barbara Bush. (AP Photo/Marcy Nighswander, File) AP file

Valley News Correspondent
Published: 12/2/2018 12:29:02 AM
Modified: 12/2/2018 12:29:00 AM

Former president George H.W. Bush grew up in Connecticut and Massachusetts, lived much of his life in Texas, worked for years in Washington, D.C., and spent his summers in Maine.

But when it came to campaign politics, Bush cherished the first-in-the-nation presidential primary state.

“He absolutely loved New Hampshire,” said Tom Rath, the former Granite State attorney general who shared a 30-year friendship with Bush. “He thought it was where politics was done better than anyplace else.”

Rath offered his comments on Saturday, hours after news broke that the nation’s 41st president had died at age 94.

Former New Hampshire governor John H. Sununu perhaps worked more closely with Bush than anyone else in New Hampshire.

“He was a great president, a great friend,” said Sununu, who served for three years as Bush’s chief of staff. “He loved New England. He loved New Hampshire and Maine.”

Three years ago, Sununu, father of current New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, chronicled the Bush presidency in a book, The Quiet Man: The Indispensable Presidency of George H.W. Bush.

“As president, he did all the wonderful things people seem to remember the most on foreign policy, but he was also a great domestic policy president and made a huge impact on this country domestically as well,” Sununu said. “He certainly was a smart president and a very empathetic president.”

Sununu also pointed to Bush’s lighter side.

“He was really fun to work for. ... He made it easy on his staff to be part of his team,” he said.

While wrapping up his third term as New Hampshire governor, Sununu served as a vice-chairman of then-Vice President Bush’s successful 1988 campaign for the White House.

Sununu reminisced that Bush arrived in New Hampshire after being “wiped out, so to speak” in the Iowa caucuses.

“We were taking him to four or five breakfasts a day, at McDonald’s and Denny’s and Dunkin’ Donuts. And he would walk around and shake hands with people, really continuing the communications process that he had started a year earlier,” Sununu said. “I’m absolutely convinced that people voted for George Bush in New Hampshire because they liked him. They had met him. He was somebody they understood and liked, and they gave him their vote.”

Dave Carney first met Bush eight years earlier, during his unsuccessful 1980 presidential campaign.

The longtime New Hampshire-based Republican consultant and veteran of numerous presidential and gubernatorial campaigns said he was a young volunteer on the 1980 campaign, often sitting in the back seat as former Gov. Hugh Gregg drove Bush around the Granite State.

“It was really old, old-school retail politics, trying to lay down a foundation of people who would be supportive of him,” Carney recalled. “It was a pretty heady experience for me.”

Carney, who later worked for Bush as an assistant to the president in the White House political affairs office, said he the art of domestic diplomacy from his old boss.

“You could be courteous and polite and still get what you wanted done with strong principles,” he said.

Carney described Bush as “very authentic.”

“His life experiences, all that he did in government service, I don’t think we’ll ever see another president as qualified,” he said.

But Carney also pointed to Bush’s personal life, saying he was a family man.

“He loved his family,” Carney said. “Very sincere. A passionate love affair with Barbara (Bush) for 75 years.”

And Bush’s warmth and consideration extended outside his family tree.

“He had a remarkable knack to remember people and keep in touch with them,” Carney said. “Every day before he went to bed, he would send a hand-written note to everybody he had seen that day. Two or three hundred notes sometimes. He was just an amazing people person.”

Rath, Bush’s longtime friend, agreed.

“What a classy, classy, guy,” he said. “Everything you hear about him was true. He was a wonderful person, honorable, and fun.”

And those qualities, Rath said, are rare in such a successful politician.

“He would be the gold standard,” Rath declared. “He was one of a kind and we’re not going to replace him. Other people will come along, but his character, his decency, his sense of honor was remarkable.”

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