Sen. Gordon J. Humphrey (R-N.H.) stunned the political world earlier this year when he announced that he would leave the Senate after two terms and seek a seat in the New Hampshire State Senate.

Now, some New Hampshire Republicans say voters may have their own surprise for Humphrey. They say Humphrey is no better than a 50-50 bet to win the GOP nomination in District 17 in the Sept. 11 primary.

State Rep. John L. Sherburne (R), a 67-year-old retired Air Force fighter pilot and four-term state representative, had announced for the open seat before Humphrey entered the race. Sherburne stresses environmental protection, supports abortion rights and calls for a referendum on shifting New Hampshire to a tax system "based on ability to pay."

Those positions make him a liberal in the Granite State, but the district has supported such candidates in the past. The biggest community, Bow, is home to many state employees who commute from nearby Concord, and who reportedly fear the conservative Humphrey's influence on budget issues.

Humphrey said last week Sherburne is getting "behind-the-scenes help from a couple of state senators who object to the fact I've expressed an interest in being senate president." But Humphrey said he has a big advantage in name recognition.

Noting that only 4,444 people voted in the last GOP primary, Humphrey said, "Nobody knows how it will come out, but I feel pretty good."