Crusty ex-New Hampshire governor becomes top aid to a Republican president. Partisan, brilliant, demanding, and tough, he becomes the "abominable no-man" in the White House.

That description could apply to Gov. John Sununu, six years top executive of the Granite State and now said to be George Bush's selection for White House chief of staff. Sununu is quick-minded and has taken controversial stands and stuck with them. With a blunt and curt management style, he turned a New Hampshire deficit into a surplus.At the same time, Sununu was greatly respected by his fellow governors. At meetings of the National Governors Association in recent years, Sununu was consistently described as one of the most competent and honest of the nation's state executives - a craggy, flinty man from a state known for its granite.

Sununu has something else that has endeared him to the President-elect: last winter when Bush had lost in Iowa, he helped the Vice President pick up his fortunes and turn the primary race around with a victory in New hampshire.

That opening description, however, was of an earlier New Hampshire governor, Sherman Adams, who helped Dwight Eisenhower win the Republican nomination in 1952, then came to Washington as Ike's chief of staff.

Adams made few friends, but ran the White House as a taut ship for the outwardly easy-going Ike. When enemies had to be made, Sherman Adams made them for five years.

He came to grief in 1958 when Boston financier Bernard Goldfine got in trouble over some fraudulent government contracts. Goldfine and Adams had long been friends, and it came out in House hearings investigating Goldfine's dealings that he had given Adams a small oriental rug and a Vicuna coat.

Just as in earlier administrations, a crony of the president came to his fall over inconsequential gifts - in Truman's time it was a gift refrigerator.

A loyal Eisenhower stuck by Adams, telling reporters that "he was imprudent but I need him," but eventually Adams had to go.

He went back to his New Hamshire. (He was actually a native of neighboring Vermont, born there in 1899.) He had interrupted his college studies at Dartmouth in 1918 to fight in France with the Marines. After leaving Washington, he headed a ski resort, Loon Mountain Recreation Corp.

Adams was a 33rd degree Mason, and by profession Adams was a forester. In his retirement he wrote and edited several books.

Sununu was born in Havana, Cuba, in 1939, earned degrees in mechanical engineering from M.I.T., and founded and headed three small high-tech engineering firms in New Hampshire, then in 1965 became a professor, later dean, at Tufts University in suburban Boston.

He returned to Hew Hampshire in 1973 and was elected a state representative. After holding a series of appointive posts in New Hampshire from 1973 to 1978, beginning with a commission on the 1974 energy crisis, he was elected governor in 1983.

Now, a quarter-century after Adams went to Washington, Sununu has an opportunity to reclaim for his rock-ribbed state the reputation for craggy honesty that Sherman Adams gave up for a coat and a rug.