Sununu, Known For Attacks On Dukakis, Seen As Possible Running Mate For Bush
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) _ New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu already has carved out a role for himself in the 1988 presidential campaign - as a strong, sometimes vindictive attacker of Michael Dukakis, governor of neighboring Massachusetts and the Democratic presidential nominee.
But Sununu is under consideration for another supporting role - that of running mate to Republican nominee-to-be George Bush. Sununu himself said Tuesday that he had been asked to fill out the questionnaire being circulated by the Bush campaign to potential vice presidential picks.
Sununu, speaking to reporters here, played down his prospects of being chosen. Asked what the odds were, he said, ″I don’t gamble.″
Even if his chances of being chosen to fill out the ticket are slim, Sununu is likely to be a visible player in the coming general election campaign.
He has been described by Democrats as a hit man with a venonmous tongue. Supporters say he just presents the facts.
Chuck Dolan, executive director of the Democratic Governors’ Association, calls Sununu a ″rattlesnake ... out of the rocks in New Hampshire.″
But GOP consultant Eddie Mahe says, ″If you don’t have a strong swing with a 2-by-4, you don’t get attention.″
Sununu, chairman of the National Governors’ Association and one of five co- chairmen of the Bush campaign, is in demand as an interviewee, according to aide David Carney. He describes his boss as an entertaining speaker with a good sense of humor who gets his message across.
″When the governor gets done speaking, you’re going to understand what he’s saying. You many not agree, but you will understand,″ Carney said. ″No one falls asleep listening to John Sununu.″
Sununu was credited with helping boost Bush to victory in the New Hampshire primary - a crucial race, especially after Bush’s third-place finish in the Iowa caucuses.
The New Hampshire governor has had a ringside seat for the six years of Massachusetts’ economic transformation. But he derides Dukakis’ description of a ″Massachusetts Miracle,″ instead calling it the ″Massachusetts Mirage.″
Sununu maintains that Massachusetts appears prosperous when viewed from outside the region, but that business indicators do not compare favorably with the rest of New England, especially New Hampshire.
″Mike Dukakis is an expert at the theater of politics,″ Sununu says. ″He has a superb veneer. That’s the whole point. Once you cut through that veneer there’s not much there.″
He also has attacked Dukakis on issues including education, mental health care and pollution in Boston harbor.
Sununu, 49, who lives in Salem on the Massachusetts border and taught at Tufts University outside Boston before becoming governor, plays up the state rivalry that heated up in the 1970s.
″The best way to kill something in New Hampshire is to say this is the way Massachusetts does it,″ said Sununu’s aide Carney.
The Dukakis campaign has not been surprised by the fervor of Sununu’s attacks, spokesman Dayton Duncan said. Dukakis himself has seldom responded to the attacks.
″Normally, we ignore it, but we point out the facts,″ Duncan said.
The biggest clash between Sununu and Dukakis is over the Seabrook nuclear plant, located on the New Hampshire seacoast about 35 miles north of Boston.
Sununu worked with the nuclear industry before his three terms as governor and is a strong proponent of nuclear power and Seabrook. Dukakis’ refusal to cooperate on an evacuation plan for Massachusetts communities within Seabrook’s emergency zone has been a major obstacle to licensing the plant.
″Mike Dukakis prevented Sununu from doing what New Hampshire didn’t want done - that’s ramming Seabrook through, which is his mission in life as governor,″ said Duncan.
Some Dukakis partisans suggest Sununu is a bit envious of Dukakis and his growing stature in national politics.
And Dukakis’ popularity in New Hampshire might rankle. An offbeat poll of 400 voters in New Hampshire during the 1986 gubernatoral race gave Dukakis 47 percent, Sununu 37 percent, in a hypothetical race for governor of New Hampshire. Boston news media sponsored the survey, conducted by a Cambridge, Mass., polling firm.
Former Sununu spokeswoman Gretta Graham, however, said Sununu’s attacks on Dukakis ″could not in any way be characterized as a personal vendetta.″
″It’s a competition basically between two strong managers,″ she said.
The two remain cordial in public and have found common ground on issues such as raising the drinking age to 21 and fighting acid rain.
Mahe, the GOP consultant, acknowledged that Sununu’s practice of ″firing with both barrels″ could backfire, but said it is not yet a concern of the Bush campaign.
Alixe Glen, deputy press secretary for the vice president’s campaign, said the Bush camp will continue to pay for Sununu’s appearances around the country.
″He’s been an enormously effective surrogate,″ she said, ″not only advocating George Bush’s candidacy and ideas, but also a very effective spokesman on the record of Governor Dukakis.″