- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 5, 2002

Rep. John E. Sununu, with only six days to go before the New Hampshire Republican primary, has pulled ahead of Sen. Robert C. Smith by 22 percentage points in a new, independent poll.
Mr. Sununu leads Mr. Smith by 56 percent to 34 percent in poll of 344 likely Republican primary voters conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center for WMUR-TV in Manchester, N.H..
The Sununu campaign, meanwhile, has been girding against a counterattack, based on rumors that a pro-Israel lobby had hired Republican consultant Arthur Finkelstein to prepare an ad that would depict Mr. Sununu as pro-Arab, anti-Israel and soft on terrorism.
Jewish political sources told The Washington Times that the most likely group to sponsor such an ad is the Republican Jewish Coalition, headed by Matthew Brooks. But Mr. Brooks said yesterday that his group was not sponsoring such an ad and would not do so.
In the world of campaigns and elections, wide leads like the one Sununu enjoys in the WMUR poll are not always good news: Some pro-Sununu Republicans could conclude their man has it locked up and won't bother going to voting booths on Tuesday.
"Primaries are all about turnout, and you don't need people sitting on their hands," a Sununu strategist said on hearing the results of the latest poll, which has an error margin of plus or minus 5 percentage points.
Mr. Sununu leads Smith by 53 percent to 40 percent among conservative Republicans, by 55 percent to 33 percent among self-described "moderate" Republicans and by 67 percent to 23 percent among independents. Democrats cannot vote in the Republican primary.
A different poll published earlier this week showed the race in a dead heat, with Mr. Sununu ahead by only 1 percentage point. Republican sources said, however, that unpublished polls last week showed Mr. Sununu with a much wider lead.
Mr. Smith is a three-term conservative who has made liars out of pollsters in previous elections with surprise victories.
But last year, published polls showed an ominous gap for an incumbent he was running as much as 30 percentage points behind Mr. Sununu in early, hypothetical matchups against the Democratic candidate, Gov. Jeanne Shaheen.
Some New Hampshire Republicans were ill-inclined to forgive Mr. Smith for having left the Republican Party briefly for an independent run for the presidency in 2000 and criticizing fellow Republicans in Congress.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee has been preparing television ads with either Mr. Sununu or Mr. Smith running against Mrs. Shaheen in the general election, Republican sources said.
Mr. Sununu, who is of Palestinian-Arab descent, is the unofficial favorite of the national Republican establishment, including the White House and the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Former President George Bush and his wife, Barbara, have contributed money to Mr. Sununu's campaign, and the elder Bush journeyed to New Hampshire to lead a fund-raiser for Mr. Sununu, whose father was once governor of the state and White House chief of staff in the first Bush administration. The influential Manchester Union Leader has endorsed Mr. Sununu.
Mr. Smith has been criticized for a TV ad that used the immigration issue to portray Mr. Sununu as soft on terrorism, an issue Mr. Smith again raised last week in a televised debate.
"The idea that John Sununu is soft on terrorism is ludicrous," said former New Hampshire Attorney General Tom Rath. "The people up here know him. He's grown up here. We have had six years to watch him in Congress, and quite apart from the outcome of the race between him and Smith, the attempt by some to question the depth of his patriotism is absurd and, frankly, borders on bigotry."

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