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The NH GOP's Quick Turnaround

The NH GOP's Quick Turnaround

By Erin McPike - November 9, 2010


Former New Hampshire GOP Sen. John Sununu barely put up a fight two years ago in a rematch for his Senate seat against Democrat Jeanne Shaheen.

Sununu's team didn't use some of the most potent opposition research it uncovered, causing some involved New Hampshire GOP operatives to complain privately later. After Shaheen's organization descended in Washington following her 2008 victory, some aides who had worked on her campaign even whispered that they were surprised Sununu didn't drop certain pieces of research or engage more.

National Republican Senatorial Committee sources said they tried for months to convince Sununu he needed to spend more time campaigning and less in his Washington office. They griped later that he wouldn't listen after what was a bruising presidential primary year because he mistakenly believed that voters there would tune out for a while. Sununu lost, 52 percent to 45 percent.

But just two years later, the state GOP came roaring back under the leadership of Sununu's father, John H. Sununu, a former governor. The state's former chief executive said in an interview after the elections that he sought the job because of the visibility he would bring to it, and he thought that might help breathe some life into the troubled organization.

In just two years' time, Republicans recaptured both House seats in the congressional delegation, held onto a Senate seat with 60 percent of the vote and gave one of the nation's most popular Democratic governors a scare in his re-election race. They say their biggest victory was flipping both chambers of the state legislature and earning veto-proof majorities in each. They also wiped out all of the Democrats on the state's powerful Executive Council, which will now have five Republicans and no Democrats.

In the interview, the elder Sununu pointed out that approximately 20 percent of the state legislature seats that flipped across the country were tucked inside the tiny Granite State. Republicans now hold 297 of the state's 400 House seats, and 19 of its 24 Senate seats.

For potential GOP presidential contenders, that's a lot of local officials to meet and ask for endorsements. Republican activity may have stalled there in 2008, but it's certain to be bustling in 2011 thanks to a grassroots surge that Sununu helped to deliver.

The GOP's grassroots community fell flat in the wake of the spirited Democratic presidential primary there. Democratic activists kept up the political organization online throughout 2008 as Republicans fell far behind. When Sununu took over, one of the first orders of business was to build a new Web site and hire a full-time online communications staffer.

But he also suggested that the national wave was heading for New Hampshire 20 months ago -- much earlier than it crashed down on the rest of the country -- due in part to actions of the Democratic legislature.

Asked if he would pick a candidate to endorse in the Republican presidential primary over the next cycle, Sununu reminded, "Iowa picks corn; New Hampshire picks presidents."

So, he said, "I might enter the fray and have a little fun, or I may stay out of it and let the younger generation decide."

Sununu indicated that someone else will be chairman during the next cycle, and he joked that all he has left to do is paperwork.

Erin McPike is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at emcpike@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ErinMcPike.

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