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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

New Hampshire Senate Candidates in Dead Heat

Air Date: Week of

In another race that may determine the balance of the next U.S. Senate, New Hampshire Governor Jeanne Shaheen and one of its Congressmen, John Sununu are in a virtual dead-heat for the seat. As host Steve Curwood reports, the environment may be a determining factor in the outcome of the race.


CURWOOD: Welcome to Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.


CURWOOD: On a crisp, blue sky day in Newmarket, New Hampshire, Sabrina McKenna holds her daughter Cassidy on her lap, and watches her son Andrew play soccer. The cool, clear weather is good news for Sabrina. It lowers the odds her son will need to use his inhaler today. Eleven year old Andrew has asthma. His condition was so worrisome that the McKennas moved here from New York to escape the smog. But they found that even New Hampshire can have bad air days.

MCKENNA: I was surprised at some of the days where the air quality does get bad, and the heat is so bad that Andrew must stay inside…


MCKENNA: …in air conditioning, while his friends play outside, and that is difficult. But because of that, we have to watch and he actually watches the Weather Channel every morning in the summer.

CURWOOD: Most people think White Mountains and green forests when they think New Hampshire. But when it comes to air quality the state sits at the end of the nation's tailpipe. Emissions from Midwest coal plants and pollution from cars and industry in the Northeast can settle here before heading out to sea. One result? New Hampshire had more bad air days this summer than in the past 20 years.

So when your air is fouled, your kid has asthma, and it's time to vote for a new U.S. Senator, the environment can be a make or break issue.

MCKENNA: Absolutely. That's pretty key for…


MCKENNA: …me and my family.

CURWOOD: Sabrina McKenna has only one vote to cast. But this year the Senate race between sitting governor Democrat Jeanne Shaheen and Republican Congressman John Sununu is so tight, both candidates can see that every vote counts. What's more, political analysts say Sabrina typifies the newcomers the Granite State has been attracting in droves during the last decade. Jeanne Fowler directs the Nelson A. Rockefeller Public Policy Center at Dartmouth College. She says these new residents like the state's relatively stable economy, its outdoorsy quality of life, and, of course, no income or sales taxes. And, she says, they're changing New Hampshire's political landscape from staunchly conservative to somewhere in between.

FOWLER: These high education, high income voters tend to be, often are independent, and they tend to be fiscally conservative, but socially liberal and pro-environment. So there is a potential vote out there on the environmental issue.

CURWOOD: And, so far, Jeanne Shaheen is the candidate tapping that potential vote. She's held a number of environmentally-focused media events and the environment is a strong theme in her campaign literature.

Her strategy is to solidify her base among Democrats and reconnect with those Independents and moderate Republicans who've given her the margin to take the governorship three times. And it may be paying off again.

GILLMAN: Hi. My name is Cindy Gillman, and I'm proud to be a Republican working for Jeanne Shaheen. I'll be working to help her win this election and send her to Washington.


CURWOOD: At this campaign event in the state capital Concord, Jeanne Shaheen rolls out a list of 100 registered Republicans she says will vote for her on November 5th.
Many of them, including former State Senator Rick Russman, will do so for environmental reasons.

RUSSMAN: There is no question that I would much prefer to have a solid Republican that truly believed in the environment and that the environment was a priority. But in this particular case, I can't say that I'm going to feel any regret at all because Sununu's past history in terms of his voting record has been clear and that has certainly been against the environment. And I think that for me, it will be an easy vote in terms of supporting Jeanne Shaheen in this particular race.

CURWOOD: John Sununu has impeccable Republican credentials in Washington as a Congressman and his father was a popular governor here who went to become chief of staff in the first Bush White House.

But that's not enough for these green Republicans. While they give John Sununu credit for his work on the House Appropriations Committee, sending land conservation dollars to the state, they say that doesn't make up for his support of oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. They also deplore his vote against tougher standards on arsenic in drinking water. And, they add, Sununu's failure to speak out against two Bush proposals that critics say could increase New Hampshire's air pollution will cost him votes.

FRENCH: I think people will cross party lines and I think you're going to see a lot of split tickets this time around.

CURWOOD: Jameson French is a registered Republican and president of Northland Forest Products, a specialty hardwood producer. He says John Sununu's policies on the environment are not in the best interest of his home state.

FRENCH: If we have smog in Portsmouth and you can't see the view from the White Mountains and our maple trees are dying because of acid rain from Ohio power plants and global warming, we're not going to attract the tourist-based natural resource economy, let alone the entrepreneurs that we want to have.

FEMALE 1: Talking about getting good directions?

FEMALE 2: He tried to give me directions.

SHAHEEN: Trying to clean things off here. Hi, Jeanne Shaheen.


SHAHEEN: Nice to meet you.

CURWOOD: Steve Curwood. How are you?

SHAHEEN: Good, nice to meet you. Hi, nice to see you again.

CURWOOD: Getting the message out that the environment is not John Sununu's top priority is a top priority here at Jeanne Shaheen's campaign headquarters. She says her opponent avoids the issue with good reason.

SHAHEEN: He has been silent on whether he would support the, President Bush's Clear Skies Initiative which would roll back major protections in the Clean Air Act. He's been silent about whether he would oppose efforts by the EPA to roll back the New Source Review provisions in the Clean Air Act which are very important to us because they address whether those dirty coal-fired plants in the Midwest are going to get upgraded to meet the same standards that other power plants have to meet today. So, he has not been there on issues of importance to the environment in New Hampshire.

CURWOOD: If Mr. Sununu were here I'm sure that he'd say--in fact, nobody would say that they're against clean air, or clean water, but that he has a different road to get there; that he feels that market-based mechanisms and incentives in the private sector are better ways to do this. What are the fundamental differences between your approaches and Mr. Sununu's?

SHAHEEN: I think the difference is a senator who's going to work in the best interests of the people of New Hampshire, who's going to put the people and what's important to us with respect to the environment first, or a senator who's going to vote his party line, going to vote with the big special interests on issues from land protection, to clean air, to clean water, to energy policy. On each of those issues there is a dramatic difference between John Sununu and me.

CURWOOD: To get John Sununu's version of the differences between him and Governor Shaheen, we meet the candidate in Portsmouth. With the Naval Shipyard as a backdrop, the Congressman accepts the endorsement of the local engineer's union.

SUNUNU: My opponent Jeanne Shaheen has accepted thousands of dollars in contributions from organizations and individuals that want to see defense cut in the United States, that want to kill important programs, and that want to reduce spending on national security. Now is not the time for that kind of an agenda and I think that's one of the reasons that the IFPTE and others at the shipyard have looked to me as a voice to stand up for our country's national security interests. Thank you very much. Thank you, Terry.


CURWOOD: Defense, security and the economy are the major themes of Sununu's campaign. But ask him about the environment and he's likely to start by telling you about his degree in engineering; the one he earned at MIT, and the one that, he says, helps him make smart policy decisions about environmental issues like clean air.

SUNUNU: I very much support strengthening the standards and tightening the standards on sulfur emissions, NOX emissions, and carbon dioxide emissions. I have supported tougher ozone standards in the past, breaking with my leadership, and certainly breaking with where the president might be on those ozone standards. And I do have concerns about changes to some of the existing requirements that do put limits on Midwest power producers. We want to make sure that those are based, any changes are based in sound science, and that they are changes that will improve emissions and bring technology to bear to reduce total emissions.

At the same time, as an engineer, I know there are a lot of regulations out there that are counterproductive, that might cause bad behavior, that might encourage people not to invest in new technology and I'm conscious of that as well.

CURWOOD: We've talked to a number of Republican voters who say they're going to vote for Jeanne Shaheen primarily because of your positions on the environment. What do you say to them to bring their votes back into your column?

SUNUNU: My environmental priorities have been New Hampshire's environmental priorities. And while Jeanne Shaheen may have the support of a Washington special interest group that supports shutting down the timber industry in New Hampshire, or destroying the small boat fishing industry here on the seacoast, I recognize that those are not New Hampshire priorities. And Jeanne Shaheen can stand up for a Washington special interest that wants to hurt New Hampshire's economy and that wants to come in with a Washington one-size-fits-all environmental regulation, but that's not what New Hampshire is about.

CURWOOD: If the environment plays a role in New Hampshire's senate race, it won't be because it's the top election issue. Andy Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, says voters knew where the candidates stood on most issues before the campaign even began.

But the environment has become an eye opener in this moderately conservative state filled with conservationists. Consider, he says, the results of a recent Survey Center poll that asks the open-ended question "Why do you plan to vote for the candidate of your choice?"

SMITH: Now, with Shaheen, we found that about two percent of those people who say they're voting for Jeanne Shaheen say they're voting for her specifically because of her environmental positions. That doesn't come up at all for the John Sununu voters. And in an election that's likely to be as close as this one is, that two percent could tip the balance in the election.

CURWOOD: Thanks largely to a barrage of negative ads, some of them produced by the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters, Andy Smith says Governor Shaheen has turned the race around. After trailing by as many as nine points, she now leads Congressman Sununu 47 to 44 percent; a statistical dead heat. In these final days of the race that could determine the balance of the U.S. Senate, three percent of New Hampshire voters still remain undecided.

[MUSIC: Stan Getz, “Serenade In Blue” QUIET NOW/BODY AND SOUL (Verve, 2000)]

CURWOOD: For more on the New Hampshire Senate race, and all of our midterm election coverage, go to our web site at loe.org. That's loe.org.



Jeanne Shaheen for Governor

John Sununu for Governor

Alabama Congressional Race
Colorado Senate Race">


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