“Sununus are all very smart and very intense and love to fight,” said Republican consultant Ryan Williams, who has worked closely with two generations of Sununus over the past decade. Williams also worked for a primary rival to Chris Sununu last year.
Indeed, history shows how the Sununus won their political dynasty: through conflict and by not being afraid to lose.
The matriarch, Nancy Sununu, served as chair of the New Hampshire Republican Party in the controversial 1980 presidential primary. The father, John H. Sununu, ran unsuccessfully for senior office several times before winning in 1982. He later served as Chief of Staff to President George HW Bush.
One of his sons, John E. Sununu, was elected to the United States House and later won a term in the United States Senate. Another son, Chris, was officially sworn in as New Hampshire’s new governor on Thursday – as his seven siblings watched. Among them were Michael, a councilor from Newfields, and James, a member of the North Hampton school board.
Chris Sununu, so far, has shown signs that he may be walking in the same family line. After winning the election as governor, he nonetheless accused Democrats of voter fraud. (He did not return a request for comment on his new office’s strategy.)
His father, John H. Sununu, won his first election as a state representative in 1972. According to lawmakers at the time, he rose so often to propose motions in the chamber that leaders allocated an intermediate seat. It was harder for Sununu to access a microphone this way.
John H. Sununu ran for state senate twice, in 1974 and 1976, and lost to the same person – badly – both times. He then ran for Executive Council in 1978 and lost. Two years later, he ran for senatorial elections and lost the Republican primary. In 1982, he won a nine-way Republican gubernatorial primary with 32% of the vote and won the general election.
By the time 1987 rolled around, Vice President George HW Bush was preparing to run for president and was going through a rough patch. The Bushes were close to the Sununus’ rival Republican family in the state, the Greggs. Hugh Gregg served one term as governor, and at the time Judd Gregg was in Congress.
But Sununu was governor, and Bush came to see him in his office at State House. Subsequently, Sununu – not the Greggs – assumed the lead role in the New Hampshire campaign, and Bush won. The elder Sununu, who is known not to suffer from fools, is said to be recognized in Washington for his argumentative style. After his stint as chief of staff, John H. Sununu found an ideal home: co-host of the former CNN talk show “Crossfire.”
But soon enough, his son John E. Sununu was entering his own competitive Republican primary for the United States House in 1996. He won, thanks in part to his name and his intense campaigning. Six years later, this son of Sununu did not wait for a free kick to run for the US Senate. Incumbent Congressman John E. Sununu challenged incumbent U.S. Senator Bob Smith in a Republican primary. Sununu won.
There were grudges for some time between Smith and Sununu. The split split the local Republican party into two camps – a chasm that most local Republicans still attribute to Sununu.
“It’s all in the past now,” Smith said in an interview. Indeed, Smith has been officially invited to attend Chris Sununu’s investiture ceremony this week.
“It was the first time a Sununu invited me to something in a long time, and it was appreciated, and I wish them luck,” Smith continued. “The thing is, with the Sununus, it doesn’t feel so much like a dynasty like the Kennedys or something because they go out and win their victories. Nothing was given to them, and I give them credit for that.
But except for a stint when John H. Sununu served as the state’s Republican Party chairman six years ago, the Sununus have been absent from their primary duties for eight years. That changed when the youngest of eight Sununu children, Chris, was sworn in this week. At 42, he is also America’s youngest governor.
As he began his inaugural speech, he looked out over the crowd and recognized the large Sununu contingent which included his parents, siblings and 16 members of the next generation of Sununus. The family received a standing ovation from the crowd.
In Chris Sununu’s speech, he called on both political parties to work together – but he also pushed for a controversial ‘right to work’ law, school choice and the imposition of a moratorium 90 days on any new regulations.
New England’s most combative political family is back.
James Pindell can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell, or subscribe to his Ground Game newsletter on politics: www.bostonglobe.com/groundgame.