On the trail: The political fallout from the vaccine funding vote

  • Governor Chris Sununu, sits next to Karen Ladd of the Secretary of State office during the Council meeting on Wednesday, October 13, 2021. GEOFF FORESTER

For the Monitor
Published: 10/15/2021 4:39:03 PM

Health officials in New Hampshire say that this week’s 4-1 party line vote by the GOP controlled Executive Council to reject $27 million in federal funds to increase the state’s COVID vaccination distribution will have real time consequences in the battle to defeat the coronavirus pandemic.

But there may also be some serious campaign consequences for Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, as he mulls a potential 2022 GOP challenge against Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan in what would be one of the most crucial, competitive, and combative Senate races in the nation next year.

What’s clear is that Sununu was furious with the vote by the four Republicans on the council to shoot down the funding, becoming what appears to be the first state in the nation to reject the aid.

“Today’s vote by members of my own party on the Executive Council was a total disservice to the constituents we serve,” the governor stressed in a statement immediately after the vote.

Later at a press conference, Sununu charged that “the vote showed a reckless disregard for the lives that we are losing.”

The following morning, in appearances on local talk radio shows, the governor described the actions by the GOP councilors, whom Sununu campaigned for last autumn, as uniformed and irrational.

The New Hampshire Democratic Party was quick to charge that the “vote was a stunning failure by Chris Sununu.”

Sununu’s landslide reelection victory last November was a major factor in his party’s retaking the majority in the Executive Council as well as both chambers of the state legislature.

Yet for the second time in the past five months – following the controversial abortion policy provisions Republican lawmakers added into the state budget – the governor’s own party has given him a major political headache.

And it’s not just Democrats who are taking notice.

Two New Hampshire-based Republican consultants agreed that the vote by the four Republicans on the Executive Council was deeply worrisome.

The veteran political strategists told the Monitor that looking ahead to next year’s elections, the rejecting of the federal funds gives the Democrats a political opportunity. They added that it creates a problem for Granite State Republicans and doesn’t make Sununu’s job any easier.

But New Hampshire GOP chair Steve Stepanek told the Monitor that he doesn’t see it that way. He said the vote doesn’t make it any harder for Republicans running in 2022.

“We’re already seeing the COVID infections plateau and by next year I think it will all be in the rear view mirror and is not going to be an issue that people are concerned about. They’re going to be concerned about four or five dollar a gallon gasoline and they’re going to be inflation across the board,” Stepanek argued. “I don’t think this is going to impact what’s going on in the election a year from now.”

The Executive Council vote appears to have also provided Granite State Democrats ammunition to characterize New Hampshire Republicans as in bed with the far right anti-vaccine extremists who’ve disrupted the most recent council meetings and who’ve also noisily protested outside the governor’s private residence.

“Rather than listening to the Attorney General and the Governor, the Republican members of the Executive Council instead chose to listen to the same reckless protestors who shut down their last meeting and threatened the safety of our state employees,” State Senate minority leader Donna Soucy said. “I am extremely disappointed that Governor Sununu made no effort prior to today’s meeting to dispel the misinformation that has rooted itself within his party and that New Hampshire’s vaccination and recovery efforts are once again delayed in the name of fantastical extremism.”

But Stepanek pushed back against the notion that Republicans are cowering to the extremists. “I do not believe that at all,” he said.

He was also critical of the protesters tactics.

“I do not believe in disrupting government meetings, Executive Council meetings,” Stepanek said. “I think that is totally unacceptable.”

Bolduc takes aim at ‘career politicians,’ makes voter fraud claims

The only declared GOP candidate in the 2022 Senate race, retired Gen. Don Bolduc of Stratham, praised the Republican executive councilors for “great leadership” in a fundraising email to supporters on Friday.

And twice in the email he took aim at “career politicians,” which appeared to be a thinly veiled jab at Sununu.

Bolduc made headlines earlier this year, joining a group of other former military leaders in signing a letter that backed former President Donald Trump’s unfounded claims that his 2020 loss to now-President Joe Biden was due to “massive voter fraud” and “rigged” elections.

This is Bolduc’s second straight run for the Senate GOP nomination in New Hampshire. He was defeated last year by Corky Messner, due in large part to Trump’s endorsement of Messner. This time around, it appears Bolduc’s making a major push for the backing of Trump, who nine months removed from the White House remains extremely popular and influential with Republican voters and GOP politicians as he flirts another presidential run in 2024.

 Last month, Trump praised the retired general and Afghanistan War veteran in a statement after Bolduc took aim at Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley during a Fox News interview. Bolduc said that a few hours after his interview on “Fox and Friends,” he received a call from Trump. He said the two spoke for 15 minutes and that the former president complimented him.

Sources close to the former president said that the statement and call should not be interpreted as an endorsement. But Bolduc hopes he’ll get one.

“I honestly believe I have a strong chance of getting his endorsement,” Bolduc said. “I am going to continue to work hard in hopes of winning that endorsement.”

In an interview with “The New Yorker” that grabbed plenty of attention this week, Bolduc claimed that there was “a significant amount of fraud” in New Hampshire in last year’s elections. He also suggested that that if elected to the Senate in 2022, he would likely challenge the Electoral College certification in the next White House race if he felt the election was stolen.

Bolduc appeared to take the side of the right wing extremists who led the deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, in an attempt to disrupt congressional certification of Biden’s Electoral College victory over Trump.

“They believed that their rights were violated. They believed that they lost their voice,” Bolduc argued.

He threw in some extra backing for the former president as well.

“Whatever President Trump decides to do, he’ll have my full support.”

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