Thursday, December 04, 2008

New Hampshire Senate: The Polls Didn’t Lie

By Nathan L. Gonzales

Even though New Hampshire Sen. John Sununu (R) trailed former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (D) in the polls for almost two years, that didn’t stop some GOP operatives from maintaining a sliver of optimism about the race, even in the campaign’s final months.

But Republicans were too focused on the margin between the Senator and his Democratic opponent (whom he defeated six years ago in a better political environment) in public polls and in private GOP surveys and didn’t put enough weight on Sununu’s standing in ballot tests in the race.

In 35 public polls taken from March 2007 through the end of October 2008, Sununu trailed in all but one of them. A December 2007 American Research Group poll showed the Republican with an astounding 11-point lead, which was a clear outlier.

A crop of polls in early to mid-September showed Sununu narrowing a consistent double-digit gap to single digits, as the Senator invoked his campaign plan. Unlike some of his colleagues, Sununu chose not to advertise early, and instead kept his campaign cash until the fall.

While Shaheen’s lead narrowed below double digits in the fall, Sununu’s number remained unchanged — stuck in the low 40s. The strange December ARG survey was the only public poll in which the Senator exceeded 45 percent in a ballot test.

In the end, Sununu lost to Shaheen 52 percent to 45 percent.

The Republican’s decision to save his money until the fall probably didn’t hurt his chances. Some of his Republican colleagues advertised early (Gordon Smith in Oregon and Elizabeth Dole in North Carolina) and still lost re-election.

But Sununu was banking on Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) competing in and even potentially winning New Hampshire in the presidential contest (McCain wound up losing the state by 9 points) and hoping that the 2006 GOP bloodbath in the state was an aberration.

That proved to be wishful thinking. And what’s more, Sununu received support from only 37 percent of female voters against Shaheen — the lowest total by a Republican Senate incumbent in the country.

This story
first appeared on on December 1, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.