- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 17, 2002

Rep. John E. Sununu, the Republican Senate candidate in New Hampshire, is in trouble and may need help from Sen. Robert C. Smith, the man he defeated in the Republican primary last month.

Smith supporters are still angry with the Republican Party for taking the extraordinary step of intervening against its own incumbent when it quietly encouraged Mr. Sununu to challenge Mr. Smith in the Sept. 10 primary.

Disgruntled Smith supporters have decided Nov. 5 is payback time, party sources said.

That anger and Mr. Smith's failure to lift a finger to help heal intraparty wounds in the month since the primary accounts for the 47 percent to 43 percent lead Mr. Sununu's Democratic opponent, Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, enjoys in the latest poll, according to Republicans close to both men.

In that Oct. 3-10 University of New Hampshire Survey Center poll of 651 likely voters, 26 percent of Republicans who voted for Mr. Smith in the primary now plan to vote for Mrs. Shaheen.

Republicans who know Mr. Smith say privately that he needs to stump around the state with Mr. Sununu and acknowledge him as a reliable conservative whose election is desperately needed to help President Bush get his judicial nominees confirmed and his homeland-security initiatives enacted.

"Otherwise, Bob is going to get the blame for a Sununu defeat and a Democratic Senate takeover, and Bob's staff is going to suffer when they look for jobs elsewhere," said a longtime Smith supporter who now supports Mr. Sununu.

But Mr. Smith has declined to be interviewed on the subject since his concession speech, in which he barely mentioned Mr. Sununu.

Party loyalists acknowledge some disaffection but insist Mr. Sununu, who led Mrs. Shaheen by nine percentage points in the same poll in June, is still ahead in the Sununu campaign's internal polls.

"There are some people who are very dedicated to Bob Smith, but the great bulk of Republicans will come home and stay with Sununu," said former state Attorney Gen. Tom Rath.

He blames part of the Sununu poll slump on voters who were out to do mischief in the Republican primary.

"There were Democratic leaning independents who were really Shaheen voters but who took Republican ballots to vote for Smith," said Mr. Rath.

The national party got involved in the race because early polls showed that, in hypothetical matchups, Mr. Sununu would defeat the likely Democratic candidate, Mrs. Shaheen, while Mr. Smith who in 2000 angered party loyalists by bolting briefly to run for president as an independent would lose.

The White House and national Republican strategists have been counting heavily on a win in New Hampshire as part of their overall strategy for retaking the Senate.

But three groups of Smith supporters are posing what may be a fatal political problem for Mr. Sununu.

"If 20,000 or 30,000 disgruntled Smith supporters sit out the election or cast write-in ballots for Smith or stick their finger in our eye by voting for Shaheen that could make the difference in a close election like this," one party source said.

One group is made up of liberal Republicans who supported Mr. Smith because of his strong environmental stands, despite his equally strong opposition to abortion and gun control.

"The second group consists of independents: blue-collar Joes, Pat Buchanan types and maybe some labor-union guys who can't stand Sununu because they perceive him as a blue blood," said a New Hampshire campaign operative.

The third group consists of "anybody but Sununu" Smith loyalists, including gun-rights advocates.

"Some Second Amendment folks will vote for Shaheen and some will write in Smith," said Michael Hammond, New Hampshire consultant to Gun Owners of America. But most Republican-leaning gun owners will go for Mr. Sununu, he added.

Economic conservatives are unlikely to vote for Mrs. Shaheen, and social conservatives whose main issue is opposition to abortion also are unlikely to support the pro-choice Democrat. But pro-lifers feeling vengeful over what they consider the party's betrayal of Mr. Smith may just stay home.

"There's some real frustration among conservatives up here, who see themselves in recent years as being systematically eliminated from higher offices in this state," said Mr. Hammond. "In 1999, 3 out of 4 of our congressional delegation were seen as hard-cord conservatives: [Sens.] Gordon Humphrey and Bob Smith and [Rep.] Chuck Douglas. Come January, none of our delegation in Congress will be movement conservatives."


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