In N.H. Rematch, Polls Favor Democrat

In New Hampshire, Democrat Jeanne Shaheen and Republican John Sununu are in a rematch of their 2002 race. Sununu won then, but so far this year's polls suggest the tide has turned. Josh Rogers, of New Hampshire Public Radio, says that since 2002, the state's GOP has imploded.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This week, we've been talking about tight Senate races in a year when the Democrats could significantly boost their majority in the Senate. Today, we'll hear about a rematch in New Hampshire. In 2002, John Sununu, a Republican congressman, beat the Democrat, former Governor Jeanne Shaheen, by four points to win the Senate seat. Now they're facing off again. But this time, the political tide has shifted in New Hampshire.

I asked Josh Rogers of New Hampshire Public Radio to explain what's changed.

JOSH ROGERS: Well, perhaps the most remarkable thing that's changed is the overall status of both parties. The Republicans were running incredibly strong in 2002. President Bush was very popular. Republicans had an 11-point edge in party enrollment. They swept up and down the ticket. Governor Shaheen was coming off three terms as governor. There was a bit of fatigue, and Republicans won big.

Since then, the party has essentially imploded. There has been a Democratic governor in since 2004; he's incredibly popular. Everyone expects him to win. The House and Senate have also swung to Democratic hands. It's the first time since the 19th century that the Democrats have controlled the corner office and the State Senate and the State House here. And party enrollment has also shifted dramatically.

In 2002, Republicans had an 11-point edge. Now it's about even, and 38 percent of the voters are undeclared or independents and they tend to decide elections here, and that's going to be the case this year.

BLOCK: And both of these names will be well-known across New Hampshire.

ROGERS: Very well-known. Jeanne Shaheen, first elected female governor, served three terms as state senator before that. John Sununu has been in Congress since the age of 31. He's 43 now, the youngest senator. And before him, his father was the governor of the state, of course, and the chief of staff at the White House. So, both of these are very, very well-known candidates.

BLOCK: And I gather that one of the issues that Jeanne Shaheen, the Democrat, is trying to press home is, in her view, that John Sununu has been working in lockstep with the Bush administration.

ROGERS: That has been the key issue, perhaps. John Sununu has been at pains to stress - and this is a quote - that "I vote with New Hampshire 100 percent of the time." Now Jeanne Shaheen, meanwhile, has been saying that John Sununu is in fact captive to the Bush administration and has been supportive of Bush administration policies, from the war to taxes, to energy plans, 90 percent of the time.

Sununu has been saying, you know, I am an independent, and he points to his opposition to provisions of the Patriot Act and Real ID and his being the first Republican senator to call for Alberto Gonzales to resign. But Jeanne Shaheen has said publicly and explicitly, essentially, you know, in 2002, John Sununu ran against my record as governor. This year, it's my turn to run against his record as an enabler to George Bush.

BLOCK: We've been talking throughout these conversations this week about the impact of the presidential vote on Senate races across the country. And John McCain has done well in New Hampshire in the past. He won the primaries there both in 2000 and also this year. Do you think his history in your state could affect and could benefit John Sununu?

ROGERS: It could. John McCain is a wild card. He's obviously very well- liked. And he holds at least putative appeal to independents. Democrats would point out that in the primary, that actually more of the undeclared voters actually cast ballots for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton than they did for McCain. But certainly, if there is a Republican who can pull independents into the Republican column, it would be McCain.

When McCain has campaigned up here - three times since becoming the putative nominee - John Sununu appeared by his side at one of those events. And at a more recent event, McCain was asked, what can you do for John Sununu? And he said, you know, we need him in the Senate. They do have a close working relationship.

But it's really hard to say. I mean, a lot of the issues that they've been debating - it's always against the backdrop of the presidential race, particularly in terms of energy. And I do think it's been certainly hard for them to differentiate themselves from the top of the ticket.

BLOCK: Okay. Josh Rogers of New Hampshire Public Radio, talking about the race for the U.S. Senate seat in his state. Josh, thanks so much.

ROGERS: You're welcome, Melissa.

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