- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 10, 2002

New Hampshire Sen. Robert C. Smith is banking on two things in the Republican Senate primary today to keep him from being the only full-term incumbent Republican senator since Jacob Javits in 1980 to lose a renomination run.

Mr. Smith is, for one thing, a conservative in a state with more Republican voters who lean right than left. Mr. Javits of New York was a liberal in a state that had a fairly conservative Republican primary electorate when conservative Alfonso D'Amato defeated him 22 years ago.

The other thing is that Mr. Smith though trailing Republican challenger Rep. John E. Sununu by double digits for much of the year believes he has the momentum. At least one published poll last week had him statistically even with Mr. Sununu.

But another bigger poll, whose results were released on Thursday, had Mr. Smith lagging Mr. Sununu by 22 percentage points. However, not even Mr. Sununu's campaign advisers put much stock in that poll, taken by the University of New Hampshire for WMUR-TV.

Nothing seemed certain going into the primary election today, not even the history of incumbent upsets. Technically, Kansas Republican Sheila Frahm, who served only a few months in the seat vacated by Bob Dole in 1996, was the most recent Republican Senate incumbent to be defeated by a challenger in her case, Sam Brownback.

Some state Republicans said privately that they saw evidence of conservative voters Mr. Smith's base of support during his 18 years in the Senate deserting him in recent days. They said that was why Mr. Smith, out of desperation, began airing over the weekend a television ad that accused Mr. Sununu of having voted to let terrorist suspects stay in the United States.

Mr. Sununu said his vote was based on protecting individual rights.

"I believe that an individual who has been granted permanent residency in the United States is protected by the Constitution," he said, adding that such a person has "a right to due process in a court of law, including rights of evidence, just as Americans overseas should be fully protected by the Constitution and justice system of the country they are in."

Sununu campaign manager Paul Collins condemned the Smith ad.

"Over the last week, it is clear that Bob Smith has slipped in the polls," he said. "This is a desperate ad, calling into question John Sununu's commitment to national security. In an ad, Bob Smith calls this a solemn time apparently not solemn enough for him to avoid running an attack ad of such poor taste."

But Smith pollster John McLaughlin rejected the suggestion that Mr. Smith was "playing the ethnic card" against Mr. Sununu, who is of Palestinian-Arab heritage.

"The ad was about drugs and taxes as well as about secret evidence [in immigration cases]," Mr. McLaughlin said. "In fact, the momentum is with Smith."

He cited no poll evidence to back that assertion, and said he had stopped polling Thursday.

Mr. Sununu has the public endorsement of the Manchester Union Leader and several Senate Republicans, as well as the private blessings of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which sees him as the better bet for defeating Democrat Jeanne Shaheen, the socially liberal, term-limited governor, in the November general election.

Sununu partisans privately push the idea that Mr. Smith, who bolted the Republican Party for four months in 1999 to run for president as an independent, is an embarrassment to the party to which he has returned.

But Smith supporters say their candidate's personal touch will make the difference.

"It's not about issues it's about style," said Smith campaign spokesman Eryn Witcher. "New Hampshire is a grass-roots state where voters want to have personal contact with the candidates, and Bob Smith is a man who has shown time and again that they regard him as one of them."

"What this is really about is who voters feel more comfortable about waking up with as their senator for the next six years," said Republican Tom Rath, a former state attorney general.

But Mr. McLaughlin insisted that the contest "is more about performance than personality and style why replace a senator who gets things done for you?"

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