TAKING NOTHING FOR GRANITE
Despite poll numbers in New Hampshire -- in particular the Research 2000 poll for the Concord Monitor -- that show Rep. John Sununu in a dead heat with Sen. Bob Smith for the Republican Senate nomination, both camps have internal polling indicating the Sununu has a stronger lead than the public polls are showing.
"Everyone, even the voters, are playing this one close to the vest," says a pollster for Sununu. "And while the poll numbers have tightened a bit in the past six weeks, we're confident that John pulls out of a five or six point win here. We think the voters will realize that if the Republicans are to have a shot at controlling the Senate, Smith can't be the candidate."
That's why the Sununu camp is making so much hay about the polls that show Smith losing in the general election to Democrat Jeanne Shaheen, while a Sununu-Shaheen faceoff leads to a Sununu win.
"I wouldn't be surprised if Shaheen is doing for Smith what Gray Davis did for Bill Simon out in California," says a Senate Republican Policy Committee staffer. (Davis is said to have spent heavily on anti-Dick Riordan advertising, allowing Simon to win the Republican nomination for governor.) "Her people are doing everything they can to help Smith pull this thing out. They're desperate for a Smith win."
RENO ON THE ROCKS
And then there is Florida, where Janet Reno's campaign appears to sputtering badly. In fact, according to a pollster doing work for the Democratic National Committee in Washington, Reno's own internal polls show her trailing rookie candidate and Tampa lawyer Bill McBride by two to three percentage points.
This perhaps isn't as stunning a turn of events as one might think. But consider that six weeks ago, Reno led McBride in some polls by as much as 30 points. But in the last month, McBride has ponied up dough for a major ad blitz, and a number of local newspapers handed out endorsements for him. "The killer there was the Miami Herald backing him instead of Reno," says the DNC pollster. "That paper over the years invested a lot in her, touted her as attorney general and pushed her as a potential candidate to Jeb Bush. To turn around and back her opponent is just devastating."
What has to be troubling Republicans is that the big momentum McBride is bringing into the primary election could translate into a decent run against Bush in the fall campaign. In June, DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe had all but written off Florida as a state in play for the party. "Now maybe he reconsiders that," says the DNC staffer. "In fact, he might just have the national party pour some money in there just to make life interesting for Bush."
"Bush has had a tough summer and still has a great double digit lead," says a Florida GOP staffer. "And we haven't been ignoring McBride. We haven't taken anything for granted, but Bush is going to be just fine running this fall. We have to be confident."
Most likely, Bush enters the race for November with a 15 to 17 point lead against McBride. Against, Reno, should she get her senior base energized in time to pull this election out of the raging fire seemingly consuming it, Bush's lead over her could double what it is against McBride.