New PPP poll for NH's open 2010 Senate race shows Congressman Paul Hodes leading but within the margin of error against the biggest names (although not necessarily the best candidates) the GOP might offer: Charlie Bass and John Sununu. Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter -- who, unlike Hodes, has not declared herself a candidate -- leads both by even narrower margins.
The good news for Hodes is a fairly strong favorability rating, 42/34 with 24% no opinion -- the best of the four. That's hardly a knock-out, but it suggests a fairly easy route to 50%-plus-one of the vote, compared, for instance with Shea-Porter's 43/40. Sununu is so well-known that he'd have trouble improving on his 46/43, and Bass is underwater at 33/37.
I suspect that neither Bass nor Sununu will actually be the Republican nominee, and it will be interesting to see whether GOP primary voters hurt their chances by picking a too-conservative candidate. If they nominate a fairly moderate, safe pick, they can make the race a referendum on the Democratic Congress, without the downside of association with the conservative wing of the national party.
I suspect that the race to replace Hodes will also be fascinating, and there are lots of names already being bandied about.