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Sununu Pulls Ahead in NH Senate Race

By Dave Eberhart   |   Wednesday, 01 Oct 2008 02:44 PM

The close race in New Hampshire between incumbent Republican Sen. John Sununu and Democratic challenger, former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, is a key contest to watch in the fight for the U.S. Senate majority — and it’s looking better and better for the GOP.

Currently, the poll numbers are trending in Sununu’s favor in this hard-fought rematch. Sununu, once struggling, now leads Shaheen 52 percent to 45 percent, according to the latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of voters in the state.

Although a late-June 2007 poll conducted by the American Research Group had Shaheen leading by as much as 57 percent to 29 percent, the race has tightened dramatically with the momentum shifting over the late summer to Sununu. An early September poll conducted by Public Opinion Strategies on behalf of the Republican Party found Shaheen ahead by only 2 percent.

According to the most recent Rasmussen report on the race, unaffiliated voters, who make up nearly half the electorate in the Granite State, now give Sununu a 49 percent to 45 percent edge after months of trending Shaheen’s way. A month ago, Shaheen led 56 percent to 31 percent among those unaffiliated.

When Sununu and Shaheen faced off in 2002, Sununu won his Senate seat by just 4 percentage points.

Ninety-three percent of Republicans and 10 percent of Democrats now support Sununu. Ninety percent of Democrats and six percent of GOP voters are backing Shaheen.

Sununu now leads by 14 points among men and trails by a statistically insignificant one point among women. Both represent sizable changes from August, concludes the Rasmussen report.

But not all the polls have Sununu running ahead.

The University of New Hampshire poll released Sept. 23 showed Shaheen with a 4-point edge over Sununu — 48 to 44 percent. An American Research Group poll of likely New Hampshire voters conducted Sept. 13 through Sept. 15 gave Shaheen a 12-point edge.

Meanwhile, the current economic crisis has provided fresh fodder in the war of words between the candidates.

This week, as reported in the Congressional Quarterly, Shaheen responded strongly to a Sununu ad claiming that he played a vital role in calling for heightened federal oversight of mortgage financiers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — both now taken over by the government.

“Five years ago, John Sununu wrote tough regulations for mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac,” a voiceover states in the TV spot. “Democrats blocked his bill, opposing restrictions on risky investments.”

The commercial goes on to attack Shaheen’s views on the economy, noting she saw “no risk” six months ago as she addressed the nation’s economic circumstances.

Shaheen, on a conference call with reporters, blasted the ad as inaccurate, referring to a statement she made six months ago calling for “tighter regulation and independent oversight.”

There are plenty of media salvos left in the ammo bag — right up to Election Day in November.

The National Republican Senate Committee has nearly $2.4 million in spots reserved on WMUR-TV to support Sununu, while the national Democratic PAC has spent $2.2 million for ads backing Shaheen. That amounts to a combined 1,456 slots over the next seven weeks, Boston.com reports.

As for Shaheen, she has reserved $645,000 worth of air time on her own so far, while Sununu has set aside $156,000.

In the War Chest Department

Both candidates have been spending plenty of dollars.

Sununu raised $7,183,098, spent $2,067,247, with cash on hand of $5,108,747, as of Sept 1, according to data collected by Opensecrets.com.

In the same period, Shaheen raised $4,903,481, spent $2,734,792, with $2,210,494 cash on hand.

As a general campaign tactic, the Shaheen camp wants to join Sununu to President Bush's hip.

For his part, Sununu has been distancing himself from both the president and the Republican Party at large.

Sununu knows he’s running for reelection in volatile times in a volatile state. In the 2006 elections, Republicans lost control of both the state House and state Senate. Republicans holding both of the state’s U.S House seats were tossed in favor of Democrats. That same year, New Hampshire’s Democratic Gov. John Lynch was re-elected to a second two-year term by a landslide.

New Hampshire is not the only Republican Senate seat at risk this season. Democrats are hoping for pick-ups in Alaska, Oregon, New Mexico, Colorado, Mississippi, Minnesota and Virginia.

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