As Democratic Opponents Scramble, Sununu Enjoys a Comparatively Carefree Summer

Sep 7, 2018

For the Democratic candidates running for New Hampshire governor, it’s crunch time. All week long Steve Marchand and Molly Kelly have worked to get attention from voters and the press. Between now and Tuesday, that hustling will be almost non-stop.

For Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, who is running for reelection but doesn’t face a primary, the political pace is decidedly less frantic. Incumbency helps, but so does Sununu’s personality. 

 

The contrast was on stark display last Tuesday. By the time Marchand rolled into an afternoon event on Concord to hype his plan for paid family leave, he’d was looking a touch haggard. And with reason, he’d already campaigned in Conway and Berlin, on a couple of hours sleep.

"You get water whenever you can and you get a nap whenever you can, those are two things you’ve got to grab whenever you get 15 minutes," Marchand told supporters.

A day later, Molly Kelly was holding her own family leave event, in Manchester.

"Your experience is this is something you wanted to do, to be with your newborn, but this was also not something where you put your feet up on the table and relaxed all day," she said.

 

Kelly’s comment about relaxing all day was meant as a dig against Sununu, who referred to family leave as vacation last week. But it’s not likely Sununu noticed the insult. NHPR was the lone statewide media outlet at Kelly’s event.  And besides, Sununu had other things on his plate:

"I did a little shopping for my apple bread. I spent a little time with the goats as well. Is there a campaign going on? Yeah, I suppose.”

That was the governor Thursday. He was unwinding after proclaiming Apple Day at Sunnycrest Orchard in Londonderry.

And while he's a fan of apple bread, Sununu's own baking skills are a bit more limited: "The only two things I prepare are pies and cookies. And I can do those really, really well. Bread I’m terrible with; muffins, horrible. But here they have some chocolate chip zucchini bread and apple bread that is absolutely to die for, my kids love it. So I bought three loaves, I’m not going to lie. It’s great."

Anyone who’s ever seen Sununu visiting a local attraction, or looked at his social media feeds, will know that celebrating the fruits living in New Hampshire – high and low – has become a key part of his political brand. His Democratic challengers tend to cast this as laziness.

"Governor Sununu doesn’t have two years of work to do in a 2 year term, so he spends this extra time apparently, making sur eth stickers are in the right place on the Market Basket deli bags," Marchand said recently.

And here's Kelly earlier this month, describing some of Sununu's recent pasttimes, as recorded on his Twitter feed:

"Arm wrestling, making grilled cheese sandwiches, racing school buses and judging chicken wing competitions."

But to plenty of Republicans, Sununu’s propensity for having fun with his job – particularly when polling suggests most people think the state is headed in the right direction -- is good politics. Tom Rath, a longtime GOP strategist, says Democrats in New Hampshire often win governor’s races by making sure voters see Republicans as out of touch or worse. Rath says Sununu’s ability to meet people where they are makes that hard.

“He’s got that style, he is enthusiastic and some of it maybe borders on the trivial, but people relate to that and that says, 'the guy kind of gets the way I live,' " Rath saud.

 

To hear Sununu tell it, his job is a lot about listening.  Before he hit the orchard earlier this week, he visited a health insurance company, and he was headed to a chamber of commerce.

 “I think Rotaries, and Elks Clubs and places like that are really powerful to go to find out where the individual needs are," Sununu said. "It’s nice to go out there and have some fun and say, 'Hi, it’s a beautiful day.' The last 90 degree day we have.”

 Sununu says he’s looking forward to the fall, even if he seemed in no hurry for summer to fade. He says he knows the political end of his job will pick up fast once primary day passes next week. But he also indicated he’s has coping strategies for when he needs them.

"I do a lot of my decompressing by doing my grocery shopping at night, both at Market Basket, and at the local country stores," Sununu offered. "And I like to fold laundry. It's therapeutic, I suppose." 

Whatever it takes to make it through Election Day.