Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush picked up the endorsement today of former New Hampshire governor John H. Sununu, who was forced out of a top White House job when Bush's father was president.

Near the end of President George Bush's term, when Sununu was chief of staff, he ran into trouble for making some controversial statements and using military aircraft for personal travel. George W. Bush, the president's son, was the person who informed Sununu that he was no longer welcome in the administration.

But that is all history. Today, Sununu said: "I would like to urge the good conservative voters in New Hampshire to support Governor Bush." Sununu managed the elder Bush's New Hampshire victory in 1988.

Sununu, who backed Dan Quayle until he dropped out of the race last fall, disputed reports of bad feelings between him and the Texas governor. "I have never had a problem with any conversation I have ever had with Governor Bush. I have always considered him a friend."

Bush said: "I can understand why John supported Dan Quayle. Dan Quayle was a loyal vice president. John worked with him closely. The thing about Sununu is that he is a loyal man . . . I bear him no ill will. His friendship is not only important to mother and dad, it was important to me."

Bush's closest rival here, Arizona Sen. John McCain, dismissed the endorsement, saying: "The establishment is very worried. That's why you see a parade of people backing Bush."

The Bush campaign was ebullient today over polls showing him closing the gap with McCain, and he held four campaign events around the state, urging people to turn out at the polls.

The state's biggest newspaper, the conservative Manchester Union Leader, tried to remind voters today that the primary is not a two-person race. The paper flogged Bush with not one, but two editorials. One, on the front page, referred to him as "Gov. Smirk" and complained that his "smug attitude and smart remarks would not do him any good." Another on the editorial page praised Steve Forbes--whom the paper has endorsed--for his tough questioning in a GOP debate about Bush's economic record in Texas.

At a news conference, Bush dismissed the editorials, saying the paper "made its decision to support Steve Forbes and I disagree with their decision."

Bush also responded to President Clinton's 89-minute State of the Union speech Thursday night, saying he couldn't quite get through it. "I was tired and he got a little long-winded there," he said. But Bush was familiar enough with the speech to comment on a number of specific proposals for new programs and Clinton's 10-year, $350 billion tax cut plan. Bush's tax cut proposal would be more than $1 billion over the same period.

"The president has spent all of the money he can possibly spend, then he had a little bit left over for tax cuts," Bush said, later adding that Clinton "and John McCain agree on the size of the tax cut." McCain's tax cut would cost about $700 billion over a decade.

McCain brushed off polls that showed his lead over Bush may be shrinking in the final days of the primary campaign, preferring to brag that his endorsement today by the working-class Boston Herald--added to last week's endorsement from the patrician Boston Globe--may make him the first candidate ever to bag both papers. Poll numbers "bounce up and down," McCain said--what gives him confidence is the "enthusiasm, the turnout, the volunteers" he meets day after day as his bus plows through New Hampshire.

McCain pressed his campaign on land and over the airwaves today, from an early morning radio appearance (in which he revealed that his favorite movie is "Viva Zapata") to a late-evening town meeting in Rochester (his 109th town meeting in the New Hampshire campaign).

He griped to reporters about Clinton's State of the Union speech and about the efforts by New York Republicans to keep him off the primary ballot in that state. But mostly he seemed contented with the lay of the land and eager to shake the next hand. "We've had a lot of success here so far just running our own campaign," McCain said, passing up the chance to second-guess the moves of rivals. "Don't react--act."

And so he did, fielding questions on topics ranging from the grand to the trivial. Grand: Who deserves the credit for the economic boom? McCain gave some credit to the Clinton administration, far more to steps taken in the 1980s to streamline the American work force and tame inflation. "Who really deserves the credit?" he said. "The entrepreneurs, the guys with the ideas, the nerds." Trivial: Who'll win the Super Bowl? McCain picked the St. Louis Rams.

Aboard his bus, McCain told reporters that he "fell asleep" during Clinton's address. "I was watching all those people jumping up and down, jumping up and down--it's so sophomoric. If I'm president, we're going to have new ground rules: Let me make the speech and then applaud at the end."

He accused Clinton of burying the country under a stupefying list of policy proposals--"a Chinese menu with one from Column A and one from Column B. Actually, 20 from Column A and 20 from Column B. . . . Show me one American who can tell you today what the president said."

As for Bush's suggestions that Clinton and McCain share similar views, McCain said: "Nobody is more anti-Clinton than me. I think a lot of people wonder whether he [Bush] is ready for prime time when he says that."

Meanwhile, Forbes's campaign brought several current and former Texas education officials to an event today to criticize Bush's record back home. "The bottom line is that Governor Bush's record on education is one of broken promises and politics as usual," said Bob Offut, a member of the Texas Board of Education.

Forbes also aired a new ad in which he talks about his plans for Social Security and taxes. He tells voters if conservatives unite, he can win.

Von Drehle reported from Exeter, N.H.

CAPTION: Texas Gov. George W. Bush takes his first snowmobile ride during a Hookset, N.H., campaign stop, one of four yesterday as polls showed him gaining on Arizona Sen. John McCain.