TCS Daily

Why Not Sununu?

By Patrick Hynes - February 28, 2005 12:00 AM

Every four years speculation bubbles that some New Hampshire politician or another might join the national ticket for one of the major parties. It has to do with the prestige of the Granite State's first-in-the-nation primary. In 1996, then-Governor Steve Merrill's popularity and charm earned him a spot on Bob Dole's long list. Same for former Democrat Governor Jeanne Shaheen in 2000. Last year, as improbable as it seems today, National Review even snuck in a mention of former Governor Craig Benson on a list of possible candidates for president in 2008.

That won't happen, but since we're speculating, allow me to ask: Why not Senator John Sununu (R-NH)?

Thighs deep in the nation's Social Security debate, son of a former White House Chief of Staff, smart cookie in his own right, and proven political giant killer, the idea is not as outlandish as it might first seem.

Sununu served in the United States House of Representatives from 1996 through 2003. In 2002, he won one of the most hotly contested U.S. Senate races in the country. He is Roman Catholic. He has a peculiar fundraising base of fellow Lebanese-Americans. He's handsome. Has an attractive and likable family. And considering the name Sununu has been on the national stage since at least 1988, he probably has better-than-expected name ID.

Republicans were not always bullish about Sununu. Written off as overrated after a nervous squeaker against relative unknown Martha Fuller Clark in 2000, Sununu decided to do the unthinkable in 2002. He ran for a United States Senate seat that was already held by a Republican. Ultimate victory would mean knocking off the sitting GOP Senator Bob Smith in the primary and then beating sitting Governor Jeanne Shaheen in the General Election. Sununu beat Smith by 12 percentage points; Shaheen by 4. By the way, Shaheen outspent Sununu by $1.2 million.

Sununu has shortcomings. He is soft-spoken and, though conservative (2004 ACU rating: 100%), not prone to toss out red meat for the rightwing masses. But from his recent speech at the 2005 Conservative Political Action Conference, one could sense a genuine connection between Sununu and the grassroots. And writing as someone who has organized all manner of political events, when John Sununu is invited to meet with voters and concerned citizens, no matter how small the gathering, he almost always says yes.

As a Lebanese-American, Sununu has been accused of being anti-Israel, chiefly by Smith during their testy primary. He's not. But neither is he as deferential to Israel and her foreign policy concerns as many conservatives.

Sununu's presence on the 2008 presidential primary ballot would muck things up in an interesting way. For one thing, most of the other Republican candidates would probably write New Hampshire off and focus on Iowa and South Carolina. But what if Sununu got in late, after the other candidates had whittled away some of their resources, and before a frontrunner emerged?

The point may be moot. Sununu has never mentioned a desire to run for president and, so far as I can tell, this article represents the first and only speculation on the subject. But at present, there are no fewer than twelve US Senators considering a run at the nation's top job. Sununu should be one of them.

Sununu's reputation may well depend on the fate of Social Security reform. He is the co-sponsor of one of the more aggressive reform plans, which would allow younger workers to invest some of their Social Security payroll tax into personal retirement accounts. If something big happens this year, Sununu, along with President Bush, will be seen as one of the heroes of the revolution. If everything goes horribly wrong, he may end up a scapegoat.

But it says something about a guy who at the tender age of 40 is willing to risk a life of political prosperity for something he feels is right.

Patrick Hynes is former Political Director of the New Hampshire Republican Party. He is the proprietor of the website


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