The Next Sununu: Like Father, Like Son?
ABC News' Michael Falcone reports:
His father, John H. Sununu, was the governor of New Hampshire, a former White House chief of staff and, most recently, a fire-breathing surrogate for Mitt Romney.
His brother, John E. Sununu, was elected to three terms in the House of Representatives before serving as a U.S. senator for six years.
Now, a third member of New England's Sununu political dynasty - Chris Sununu - is looking to follow in his father and brother's footsteps as he contemplates higher office. The 38-year-old Salem, N.H., native has been hinting that he will seek either a congressional seat or run for governor of the Granite State - a decision he says he will make in the next few months.
"I'm a Sununu. If I told you I wasn't considering it, you wouldn't believe me," Chris Sununu told ABC News in a recent interview (repeating a line that is fast becoming his stock response to questions about his political future).
Sununu serves as one of five members of New Hampshire's powerful Executive Council, a job that gives him jurisdiction over roughly one-fifth of the state's population. He also runs the Waterville Valley Resort, a year-round destination located in the state's White Mountains.
A bid for New Hampshire's first Congressional district, a seat currently held by Democratic Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, seems a likely next step for Sununu. Although he stressed he has yet to make up his mind, if he did jump into the race, he offered a prediction: "I think I'd be good at it, and I know I'd win." A run for governor would pit him against Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, who began a two-year term in January.
His decision, as well as that of his brother John E. Sununu, who is rumored to be eyeing his old Senate seat, could have a domino-like effect on other New Hampshire politicians who are waiting in the wings.
"What the Sununus are thinking is on the minds daily of a number of Republicans," WMUR.com Political Director James Pindell, a long-time Granite State political observer, wrote last week. "When either one of them announce what they are thinking it will be a huge day in New Hampshire politics."
But merely being a part of the Sununu clan is not a guarantee of electoral success as John E. Sununu learned in 2008 when he lost his re-election bid to Democrat Jeanne Shaheen by a 52 to 45 percent margin.
And as Chris Sununu acknowledged to ABC News, his famous last name comes with both pluses and minuses, not the least of which is the reputation his father earned last year as an ardent - and sometimes strident - defender of Romney. Or as his son put it, "that wacky old uncle who can be a little bit off -putting."
In an interview, an ebullient John H. Sununu insisted that he and his son keep their distance when it comes to political matters.
"I know this may surprise people, but we don't talk politics," the elder Sununu said, joking that he does not have the inside-track on which office his son might seek in 2014. "I suspect that my wife and I will have to read it in the paper and see it on television."
Ryan Williams, a former Romney spokesman and experienced New Hampshire political hand who is close to the Sununus, said, "Chris lucked out by getting his father's brains combined with his mother's easy-going personality. And he is young, so he connects well with a new generation of voters."
For his part, Chris Sununu rates the political utility of his family name as a "net zero."
"Just because someone voted for my father or brother doesn't mean they're going to vote for me," he said. "People think the Sununus get together and play in political scheming and strategy. That couldn't be further from the truth. That's just not how we roll."
But whatever his next career move, Sununu said he is well aware that his family connections will put him under a more intense microscope. Shortly after word got out that he was thinking about either a Congressional or gubernatorial bid, the chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party accused him of "trying to influence a judge."
The Democratic chairman was referring to an incident in which Sununu sent a letter to a circuit court judge on behalf of a Salem city official who had been convicted of a misdemeanor crime. New Hampshire's attorney general, a Democrat, appeared to clear Sununu of any wrongdoing in the matter.
"It must mean that they're afraid," Sununu said. "I've been in the political eye my entire life. I've got an insanely thick skin - for better or worse. My feelings don't get hurt."
Sununu spent several years in Washington while his father served as White House Chief of staff under President George H.W. Bush during the late 1980's and early 1990's - an experience he evidently did not relish. When he left, the high-school-aged Sununu said he thought to himself, "I can't wait to never come back."
But he said that feeling changed recently when he came to the conclusion that "if there's ever a time Washington needs good, young energetic candidates," it is now.
If he runs for either office, Sununu indicated he would not turn his campaign into a family affair.
"I never ask anyone in my family to go raise me money," he said. "We all kind of appreciate the fact that whether you succeed or fail, it's on your own."
He said the best advice he received from his father was simple: "Be honest," and "let the fruits of your labor" do the talking with voters.
And when it comes to advice for his son on whether to run for Congress or governor, the senior Sununu kept it equally simple: "I'd tell him to go ask his wife."