The left is celebrating a new poll that shows Sen. John Sununu trailing former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen by 22 points. Unforunately for them, Shaheen has not announced her candidacy. In fact, she has already said that she will not run, but she is now reconsidering that decision.
The popular Shaheen lost to Sununu in their first battle back in 2002. As they are now, Democrats were highly optimistic that Shaheen, the strongest statewide Democrat, would pull it out. They were wrong.
Since then, though, Sen. Sununu’s popularity has taken a hit and Republicans are struggling nationally. Democrats picked up both House seats last year, but at least one is likely to be competitive next year. New Hampshire was also the only state that Gore lost in 2000 and Kerry won in 2004. There is no denying that there is a Democrat trend, but that trend is not likely strong enough to make this race uncompetitive.
Most importantly, Sen. Sununu leads all Democrats who have declared their candidates, meaning that any Democrat except Shaheen would have his work cut out for him. He also has a fundraising jump on Shaheen. While New Hampshire is a small state, much of it is within the Boston media market, so the few million dollars that are enough in them big rectangular states aren’t enough here. To be sure, Shaheen is an experienced politician and will be able to raise money, but it would be extremely difficult for her to go dollar-for-dollar with Sununu declaring this late in the cycle.
Sununu also must not be underestimated. His divisive 2002 primary challenge to then-Sen. Bob Smith and tough general election campaign against Shaheen demonstrate just how savvy of a politician he is. Sen. Bob Smith had attracted die-hard loyalty from many of the state’s conservatives, yet after defeating the GOP Platform’s hero, he somehow managed to unite the Party to edge out the popular Governor. Surely Shaheen will consider these factors when she considers leaving a lofty post at Harvard for a knock-down drag-out Senate campaign. If not, Shaheen and her fellow Democrats will underestimate Sununu at their own peril.