Can McCain Save Sen. Sununu?
Ever since Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) wrapped up the Republican presidential nomination, embattled GOP campaign strategists have been holding out hope that his presence at the top of the ticket will help put the party over the top in House and Senate races.
And while competitive contests dot the electoral landscape across the country, no Republican needs McCain's help more than New Hampshire Sen. John Sununu.
Many analysts consider Sununu the most endangered Senate incumbent in the country, as the Republican fights for a second term against ex-Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (D). Sununu narrowly beat Shaheen for the seat in 2002, but times have changed for him and for the Republican brand in the state and across the country.
The Rothenberg Political Report and the Cook Political Report both rate this year's New Hampshire contest a tossup, with Stu Rothenberg recently calling Sununu "the most endangered Senate incumbent in his party." The Fix's last Friday Senate Line pegged the seat as third-most likely to switch parties, trailing only the Virginia and New Mexico open-seat races. "It's clear that unless something drastic changes in this race, Sununu is in serious trouble of losing his re-election bid," wrote Mr. Fix.
And new polls keep bringing more bad news for Sununu. An American Research Group poll released Thursday showed Shaheen leading Sununu, 47 percent to 33 percent. That followed a University of New Hampshire poll released in February that showed Sununu trailing by 17 points.
Sununu does have a financial edge, ending 2007 with $3.4 million in the bank compared to $1.1 million for Shaheen. But the former governor's fundraising is sure to pick up as Election Day approaches, and national Democrats have far more cash to spend on Senate races than Republicans do. So all the chips appear to be stacked against Sununu keeping his job in 2009.
Enter John McCain. Thanks to the Granite State's privileged primary calendar position, the Arizona Senator has spent an inordinate amount of time campaigning there over the last year. McCain won the Jan. 8 GOP primary, beating Mitt Romney of neighboring Massachusetts by five points. And, of course, McCain exploded onto the national scene in 2000 by trouncing George W. Bush in the New Hampshire primary that year.
As John DiStaso, the dean of New Hampshire political journalists, put it in a column last week, "John McCain has a long connection with the state, remains able to attract independents and is generally respected even from those who disagree with him on key issues."
Yet even if McCain can attract moderates and independents to his cause, does it follow that those same swing voters will vote for Sununu? In that new ARG poll, "undeclared" voters -- those who do not identify with either party -- favored Shaheen by a whopping 48 points.
New Hampshire will be competitive on the presidential level in November, so you can expect McCain to spend more time there as the year progresses (he raised about $100,000 at a Manchester fundraiser last week). And he will surely schedule some joint events with Sununu and possibly cut some ads for the Senator.
But Sununu is a known quantity in the state. He served in the House for six years before being elected to the Senate in 2002, and his father, John H. Sununu, was the state's governor for six years before becoming chief of staff to President George H.W. Bush. And Shaheen is just as familiar, having also served as governor for six years before losing to Sununu in 2002.
Knowing the younger Sununu as well as they do, New Hampshire voters appear unlikely to be swayed too much by any praise from McCain. Will the Arizonan help at all in November? Probably so, but Sununu has an awful lot of ground to make up.
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