Sununu has Republican hearts all aflutter
In his farewell speech out-going New Hampshire Republican Chair Fergus Cullen was honest. His power-point presentation at the party's convention earlier this year mapped the party's failings along with his own. His main theme was that, after two horrible election years in 2006 and 2008, Granite State Republicans needed to be forward looking. No longer should they focus inward and on the past. The party's message needed to expand beyond taxes and address issues like health care and the environment. With a new message should be new candidates, among them more women and minorities, he said.
Immediately afterward, this audience replaced the 35-year-old Cullen with a 69-year-old former governor who hasn't been directly involved in politics for 17 years and whose main theme was taxes. His name is John H. Sununu.
Call it the back-to-the-future strategy.
Sununu's re-emergence has brought a rare enthusiasm to the air for Republicans. Many have left the party lately. But at this convention attendance was double what it was two years ago. Many spoke of a "new day" or of "turning the page." The change in administration would mean competence, unity, a sense of momentum and a reason to feel proud again. Republicans discuss Sununu the way Democrats discuss Barack Obama.
New Hampshire had long been a libertarian-minded, conservative Republican state. The national Republican party is said to have been founded in Exeter at a secret meeting called by former U.S. Senator Amos Tuck. Republicans won their first gubernatorial election in 1856. From that pre-Civil War era until 1994 Republicans won 63 out of 71 races for governor. The same domination held basically true for the state's Congressional delegation and Statehouse majorities.
Recently it has been a different story. The state voted for a Democratic governor in six of the last seven gubernatorial races and for a Democratic president four out of the last five elections. The last good Republican year was 2002. That year they won every major race on the ballot, heavily benefiting from President Bush's popularity back then and a Democratic candidate for governor whose platform called for establishing an income tax. But just four years later, in 2006, Democrats had their most successful election year since the 1870s, unseating two Republican members of Congress, winning the governorship by a record margin and grabbing majorities in both Statehouse chambers.
If that wasn't bad enough the state Republicans, badly out-fund-raised 3 to 1 by Democrats last year, has had to pay $75,000 over the past three years to the state Democratic Party in penalties from an Election Day phone-jamming scandal in 2002. And last month the N.H. Secretary of State reported that for the first time in history there are more registered Democratic voters than Republican.
In many ways Sununu is the perfect guy to turn things around. Currently, state Republicans need three things: money, a message and a leader who can stop the infighting. Sununu can provide all three. NH
This article appears in the April 2009 issue of New Hampshire Magazine