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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.

By Ben Pershing  |  March 21, 2008; 3:08 PM ET
Categories:  2008 Campaign  
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Also, given the state's swing-state status (red state for generations, slowly turning blue in the last ten years), McCain would do well to campaign there aggressively during the general election season. Given his popularity in NH, that MIGHT have the added effect of pulling Sununu up just enough to hang on to his seat.

Posted by: Nathan Irwin | March 21, 2008 3:14 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: votenic | March 21, 2008 3:35 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: Anonymous | March 21, 2008 4:39 PM | Report abuse

Sure McCain can help Sununu, just ask Jim Oberwies

And really, does any politician want help from a candidate so doddering, blithering and idiotic that he repeats the same BS, "Iran is training al-Qaeda"?

Posted by: KingCranky | March 21, 2008 5:41 PM | Report abuse

McCain stands on the best long term record of integrity of any candidate.....

...... now if only he'd change his stance on Iraq....

Posted by: PacificGatePost | March 22, 2008 2:23 AM | Report abuse

As the Bush family's eminence gris in New Hampshire, Sununu is long overdue to be ousted. There is not one single thing in the voting record of Sununu that would recommend him to any voter interested in the well-being of the country: his connection with Bush Sr. is particularly odious. We hope he loses by a huge landslide!

Posted by: bong_jamesbong2001 | March 23, 2008 8:09 AM | Report abuse

I believe that Senator Sununu can be reelected and that Senator McCain will win the state of NewHampshire in November.Both Senator Clinton and Senator Obama have people around them that most good citizens in NewHampshire or any other state dont want to see have any more power then they already have.and Senator Sununu has had tuff elections before and won so when the dust is seattled the polls will show how wrong they are again.

Posted by: Garry Allyn DeManty | March 24, 2008 11:57 AM | Report abuse

No one deserves to lose his senate seat more than John Sununu. I will work to see that it happens. NH has a chance to atone for electing a horrible senator. Shaheen is loved & will be elected.

Posted by: cosmiccanine | March 24, 2008 2:20 PM | Report abuse

The Republican brand is toast. It stands for Jingoistic false patriotism, incompetent government, false and hypocritical claims to "Morality' and "Values" and unconstitutional abuse of power. In short, everything America stands for. They deserve 40 years in the political wilderness for worshiping false idols.

Posted by: thebob.bob | March 24, 2008 3:01 PM | Report abuse

Please unsubscribe from the Washington Post list

Posted by: | March 24, 2008 4:13 PM | Report abuse

Mc Cain came within a whisker of pulling a Lieberman in reverse and abandoning the Republican Party in a fit pique after the 2000 primaries. He has shown his vindictiveness in more than his hatred of the Vietnamese but also by his behavior towards his own caucus members when his opinions are/have been apposed. Having him answer the 2AM fictional call scares the bejeesuz out of me. It's likely to bomb, bomb, bomb, who ever called.

Posted by: robert l sauer | March 24, 2008 6:15 PM | Report abuse

Any citizen in this country who makes less than $250,000 a year and still votes for a Republican after what's gone on for the last 8 years is an idiot for voting against his/her own economic welfare. Duh, not a penny of this war has been paid for. It gets more expensive every month and it's all piling up on the national credit card. 2 years ago what we spent in Iraq would have been the equivalent of 700 brand new, state-of-the-art High Schools in every state. Wake up America!

Posted by: bachrock9 | March 25, 2008 10:30 AM | Report abuse

Sounds like all the voters in New Hampshire are like all the other democrats in the country. They are losing their minds, and voting for socialistic people to send to wash. We have enough of those types down there already, and to send another butt kisser to wash. will not do anyone any good. John has done the best he could with the new dumb majority, and will continue to do what he can for the people he loves. jean hasn't got what it takes to be a senator. We have enough skirt tails in the senate already, and they are messing up the process. Let's vote all the women out of congress and put men in there to do a mans job.

Posted by: elmerck | March 25, 2008 11:33 AM | Report abuse

I personally hope Shaheen does get ellected. I have had personal experience with Jeanne Shaheen she is a remarkable women. It is time to have people like Jeanne in Washington. Jeanne brings much to the fore front FOR THE PEOPLE, especially chidren. I will be voting for her myself.

Ann Holt

Posted by: Ann Holt | March 25, 2008 11:50 AM | Report abuse

Its a pity that the only "apparent" viable opposition to more-of-the-same Bush Imperium governance by edict and action in the dark is the Democrats' unfortunately leftist alternative. So be it. Maybe the Neocons DID hijack the Republican Party, but whoever has been in charge, look where its led us: Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, torture and warrantless wiretaps, the verge of economic ruin, the collapse of American prestige, ill-considered wars we can't win (because we got in under false pretexts, or without consideration of what "winning" would even be) and we can't get out of (for the same reasons). Its hard to imagine what further damage some silly-season socialism can really do at this point.

Posted by: Iconoblaster | March 25, 2008 1:09 PM | Report abuse

Didn't people go to jail getting him elected last time by jamming the Democrat's get out the vote, where even with that he only one with 50.7%? Perhaps New Hampshire voters are feeling that it's time to have a fair election.

Posted by: jforauer | March 25, 2008 9:22 PM | Report abuse

SAVE Sununu ?

McCain's yellow submarine is equipped-with pre-WWII torpedoes, the kind that go out a few-hundred yards, then double-back to blow-up the sender.

Appropriate, considering the McCain illustrious U. S. Naval family-tree.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 26, 2008 12:46 PM | Report abuse

it's interesting to me that sununu is largely unpopular in N.H. because of his support for bush's policies... and now mccain is supposedly going to be helpful to him, even though mccain himself supports most of the same policies as bush...

Posted by: Anonymous | March 27, 2008 7:57 AM | Report abuse

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