On 'Super 603' Days, Sununu Takes The Leading Role In His Own Online Productions
Gov. Chris Sununu has declared a new state holiday: Super603 Day. Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of it.
So far, it has existed mostly on the governor’s social media feeds. But that appears to be changing. This weekend, Sununu is holding the first stop on what he’s calling his “Super603 Thank You Tour.” These events – a trip on the Conway Scenic railroad, a Fisher Cats game, and a harvest fest in Walpole – are free to the public, and paid for by the mostly corporations who donated to Sununu for his inaugural celebration.
NHPR’s Josh Rogers spoke with Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley about how Super603 Day is furthering Sununu’s personal and political ambitions.
(The following is a lightly edited transcript of the conversation.)
Rick Ganley: So Josh, basic question: What is a Super603 day?
Josh Rogers: Back in mid-May, the governor took to social media to announce a road trip and asked for crowdsourced suggestions on how to make it “the ultimate #super603day.” Sununu and a guy he identified only as a “cousin from Massachusetts,” (a lot of us have one of those) embarked on a day-long trip with a very full itinerary. There were ATC rides at Jericho Mountain in Berlin, skiing at Tuckerman Ravine, fishing Lake Winnipesaukee, all before hitting Hampton Beach for some paddle boarding and a swim.
All day long, Sununu’s Twitter feed name-checked New Hampshire-made food and drink and local businesses. The idea of “Super 603 Day” caught on. Since then, the governor has made three other county-specific 603 Day road trips. They’re scaled back, but not dissimilar: exhorting people to check out the state, highlighting favored locations, and local food.
Ganley: It does sound like a fair amount of eating.
Rogers: That is an occupational hazard for what amounts to campaign-style barnstorming, but there’s also physical activity. And a lot of what you could consider territory-marking, though, showing up and documenting it.
In some ways, it’s a proven model for New Hampshire governors. Successful ones often embrace the small town mayor aspect of the job. But Sununu is really extending this, by making it way more performative - and casting himself as the leading man in the performance. At times the governor can come across as like a guy hosting a local food or travel YouTube channel.
There is no shortage of enthusiasm there. But bear in mind, these clips of Sununu being shot and selected by the governor’s office press team.
Scott Spradling, a P.R. consultant, who for years was WMUR’s lead political reporter, says Sununu is turning himself into “New Hampshire’s mascot” with these tours. He says the governor’s Super603 Days are doing a few things at once.
Spradling: As the governor, you are raising awareness for the tourism economy, you are [saying] “Hey I’m out and about and interacting with people.” You also now have wonderful file video, if you will, for whatever campaign you are going to launch.
Ganley: Now the cliché, due to New Hampshire’s two-year terms for elected office, is that governors never stop campaigning. How is what Sununu is doing any different?
Rogers: The techniques are a bit different, and in Sununu you’ve got a guy who has taken the typical posture of New Hampshire governors – that the state is an exceptional place, we do things differently, etc – and cranked it to 11.
At the same time, you’ve got his taxpayer-funded press secretary tweeting out things like images of him skiing Tuckerman Ravine, captioned, “No other governor can match Chris Sununu.” These then get retweeted by other taxpayer-funded staffers. You have the state’s own travel and tourism website highlighting the governor’s Super 603 itinerary with what can be called a promotional photo essay.
I mean, the foregrounding of the governor as a performer of New Hampshire’s identity – at least a version of it – is very different in approach from any governor I’ve covered.
But it has to be said that there is ample data – polling and anecdotal – to suggest the approach appears to be working politically for Sununu. It allows him to interact with the public in ways that seem spontaneous and also divorced from the grim news these days on the pandemic, while bypassing local media.
Ganley: But this weekend, Super603 is leaving the web, for the first of several live events. Sunday, the governor’s heading to the Conway Scenic Railroad, and inviting people to come hang with him, so they can be “thanked”?
Rogers: It will be interesting to see how these go. The Conway event, as well as the two others that have been announced, are being paid for with money for his inaugural fund. That’s largely corporate donations, and as we’ve reported in the past, New Hampshire governors have a lot of latitude in using such funds. For Sununu to spend them to allow anyone to sign up and do something touristy has a populist aspect that an inaugural ball – even one in New Hampshire, where they tend to be somewhat homespun – probably lacks.
In a lot of ways, the timing of these are interesting: They amount to a public relations blitz in the run-up to the governor’s announcement of his future political plans - including a possible run for U.S. Senate. That may be great for him, but with the COVID variant situation what it is, with rising case numbers, holding events like these certainly add an element of potential risk, political and public health, that could undercut the whole “Super 603” M.O.