Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.) could actually be in his toughest race to date.
And that’s a high standard, considering Sununu won a seven-way House primary in 1996 by fewer than 500 votes, and defeated an incumbent Senator in the 2002 Republican primary and a popular sitting governor in the general election later that year.
Sununu is nothing if not battle-tested. So why are Republicans in the Senate and at home privately so nervous about his campaign?
Probably because most publicly released polls show him down double digits to his challenger, former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (D), in a state where the Democratic wave hit particularly hard in 2006. Both Congressional seats, the state House and the state Senate all flipped to the Democrats two years ago, and the Democratic governor won re-election by 48 points.
But it also may have something to do with the fact that Sununu only recently put a full campaign team together, despite the fact that he is one of the most vulnerable Senate incumbents in the country this cycle.
In an interview late last week, however, Sununu expressed confidence in his re-election prospects. “I was outspent 3-1 and I won the primary” in 2002, he said. “In the general election, I was outspent 2-1, and I won. It was arguably the highest-profile race in the country that year. I know what it is to run and win a tough campaign.”
New Hampshire Republican Party Chairman Fergus Cullen, who supported Sununu for Senate when he challenged then-Sen. Bob Smith (R) six years ago, said Sununu has “been tested so very many times.”
“One of the reasons that we are so confident in him this year is that unlike so many other Senators, he has not had an easy political life,” Cullen said.
Sununu said his plan has always been to ramp up his campaign staff and consulting team in the second financial quarter of this year, especially with the presidential campaign dominating the political scene in New Hampshire until January.
Yet in the age of the years-long campaign, Shaheen started reacquainting herself with voters last September, and Sununu’s relatively slow start has contributed to the Republicans’ nervousness about his campaign. Sununu only put together his campaign team in April — the latest of any candidate in a top-tier Senate race.
Cullen acknowledged that he has heard from Republican activists who are worried about Sununu’s campaign.
“Those people are wrong,” Cullen said.
When asked why some of his Republican colleagues are insinuating that he might not have the fire in the belly that spurred his 2002 primary bid, Sununu said that was “absolutely” not the case.
“None of my colleagues in the Senate ... saw me on the campaign trail in 2002,” Sununu said. “We’ve got great organization. Listen, [in the first weekend of this month], we did 15 or 16 different events. My opponent did one or two. The weekend before, it was probably very similar. In terms of the kind of events, the reception, the organization, the response — I feel very, very confident that we’ve got the focus and the enthusiasm and the team to win.”
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., takes a selfie with his cut-out head during the Hoops for Youth 16th annual charity basketball game held at George Washington University's Smith Center, September 8, 2014. The members of Congress team beat the lobbyist team 46-40. Buy photo here.