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August, 16th 2007

What Sununu needs to do

– Liz Mair

Ankle Biting Pundits and The Hill both have items up today talking about John Sununu's re-election race, and the Senator's vulnerability heading into next year over his perceived lockstep record of voting with the Republican majority (and the President). Both items hone in on the issue of Iraq, and what that could do to Sununu; the Hill piece also focuses on items related to health care.

Readers will know that the Sununu race is one I'm following particularly closely, and might suspect that I find it completely astonishing that anyone would perceive Sununu as being a Bush-ite, or a run-of-the-mill Republican in any way, shape or form. Still, that's how New Hampshire Democrats are trying to paint him-- and it seems that they're having some success.

On the subject of Iraq, which is probably Sununu's greatest vulnerability, both pieces fail to point out that Sununu is clearly not in lockstep with the President (something that not many people seem to have noticed). In fact, Sununu is a cosponsor of a bill that would base future Iraq strategy on the Iraq Study Group report.

This is significant -- and Sununu should be talking much, much more about his backing of this bill-- for three reasons:

1. This bill seeks to set conditions that would enable US forces to begin coming out of Iraq as early as March 2008. In other words Sununu's sponsorship of it shows that he is not one of those Republicans who's willing to stay the course, even if it takes 10 years. In fact, it shows that he wants to get troops out of Iraq, and in the relatively near future, but isn't the kind of hothead (like certain Democrats) who are prepared to deny troops body armor in order to force a withdrawal.

2. This bill seeks to upstep diplomacy as a precursor and simultaneous effort to withdrawing troops from Iraq, which will be essential to avoid violence upon US withdrawal that, frankly, would make yesterday's events look like a walk in the park. Otherwise put, Sununu is not an anti-diplomacy, "go it alone" Republican like the President. He's also not a heartless ass who is willing to create a situation where Iraq goes the way of Bosnia or Rwanda, purely to placate anti-war voters in his state.

3. This bill has bipartisan support-- and support from some of the best "reach across the aisle" types in the US Senate. So, Sununu is working on this with pragmatic, forward-thinking Democrats like Ken Salazar (CO), Mark Pryor (AR), Bobby Casey (PA) and Blanche Lincoln (AR), who come from states with similar profiles to Hew Hampshire (i.e., not very conservative, not very liberal). On Iraq, he's doing what's consistent with the less rigid and hardline views of his state, just as, say Salazar (whose state and New Hampshire have a lot in common in terms of voters' attitudes) is. Note that the "smartness" and "non-Bush-ness" of this bill is also demonstrated by its Republican co-sponsors-- in addition to Sununu, there is Judd Gregg (suggesting that Sununu's co-sponsorship of this bill accords with New Hampshire voters' priorities), and then there is Lamar Alexander (not exactly a big government, neocon, social con Republican like Bush) and Robert Bennett (one of the smartest Senators around, and one who seems absolutely unafraid to step away from his party-- see his votes on stem cell research and immigration, among others).

If Sununu's true approach on Iraq isn't sufficient to convince NH voters that he's hardly Bush-ite, and is the last Republican who should be punished for the excesses of this administration, perhaps it is time for the Senator to start reminding voters in "Live Free Or Die" New Hampshire that he voted to block renewal of the PATRIOT Act back in December 2005, which he considered problematic from a civil liberties perspective. Only three other Republicans did the same-- and they all caught hell from the administration, something that anti-Bush voters concerned about civil liberties might like to note before heading to the polls next year.

And maybe he should remind voters in what is perhaps the most anti-tax state in the entire country that he voted against tax hikes entailed in the SCHIP expansion, and in the energy bill debated in June-- actions that are entirely consistent with New Hampshire values.

Of course, as ABP points out, Sununu would also do well to point out to voters that his likely challenger, Democrat Jeanne Shaheen, against whom he ran five years ago, famously backed the introduction of a state sales tax (which didn't sit well with a lot of New Hampshire's traditional, anti-tax voters-- Republican, Independent, and Democratic). More to the point, voters should be aware that Shaheen, for as much as she has since backpedaled on her support for invading Iraq, definitely supported it in 2002.

The fact is, whether the pundits or indeed the New Hampshire Democratic party have cottoned onto it or not, John Sununu is far from your typical Republican, and actually is a good fit for his state. And Shaheen is not herself a typical Democrat of the type that the party that nominated Carol Shea-Porter (common descriptions: caustic, moonbat, rude) seems to prefer these days.

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