For Sununu, Popularity Could Trump Poor Fundraising Numbers In Governor's Race

Oct 22, 2018

Credit Jason Moon for NHPR

Chris Sununu is popular incumbent governor from a political family of national prominence. He also enjoys the social aspects of poltics.

You’d think he’d be a prolific political fundraiser.

But a look at Sununu’s fundraising totals for this election – about $1.5 million – would prove you wrong.

Sununu isn’t shy about admitting that raising campaign cash isn’t a part of the politics he likes. Just listen to him last week, speaking on Fox news.

“Raising money stinks, and again, I grew up, where you didn’t really ask people for help, you took care of yourself,” he said. 

But absent self-financing a campaign, taking care of oneself doesn’t pay for things like yard signs and television ads. And that forces Sununu to do what practical politicians must: hit up tested partisan donors.

In New Hampshire that means wealthy GOP business leaders, like attorney Henry Stebbins, and former Governor Craig Benson.

Both have funneled thousands to Sununu.

Benson and Sununu smiled for the cameras and traded jokes when Benson’s state portrait was unveiled last year.

“I’m just thrilled to not be the last Republican governor and to give to such a capable person is amazing," Benson said.

But Sununu has also inspired donors with more pedestrian motives.

Concord lobbyist Bruce Berke represents the National Federation of Independent Businesses, a group that endorsed Sununu.

And he says Chris Sununu’s record on cutting taxes, and lifting regulations is one businesses-friendly GOP donors are happy to support.

“He’s been a strong supporter of the business community, he’s been out amongst the business community, and he continues to advocate for positions that allow a business to grow."

Sununu has also adopted fundraising tactics that allow a politician's coffers – particularly an incumbent politician's – to grow.

He’s taken lots of donations from corporate entities. Some are in energy, like Eversource and the power plant-owning Next Era Energy. Bus companies like C&J and Dartmouth Coach and Concord Trailways have also boosted the rail-skeptic governor.

He’s also relied on private events where the legwork is done by others.

Berke, for instance, set up a reception for Sununu at the law firm where he works. Sununu was able to duck in and duck out with some checks, Berke confirmed.

Sununu’s entering the final stretch of the campaign with a $200,000 cash advantage over Democrat Molly Kelly. But in the most recent period she outraised him three-to-one.

GOP strategist Ryan Williams says people watching this race in both New Hampshire and D.C. expect Sununu to win, but few would be impressed by his fundraising totals.

"They’re lower than expected, but he’s managed to run the type of race he’s needed thus far, but obviously it would be better to have more in the bank account headed into the final month."

Better, maybe. But Sununu may have what he needs.