On the Trail: Sununu targeted on abortion

  • Governor Chris Sununu visited Peterborough on Friday to discuss Peterborough and Jaffrey's joint water project and tour the Main Street Bridge construction site. Staff photo by Ben Conant

For the Monitor
Published: 9/24/2021 4:22:58 PM

As the calendar turns from summer to autumn and 2022 campaign politics starts to heat up in New Hampshire, the always combustible issue of abortion is front and center.

New Hampshire Democrats are following through on their vows to make Republican Gov. Chris Sununu pay a political price for signing a state budget – one that Republicans showcased as the most conservative in decades – that includes a ban on abortions after 24 weeks of gestation and mandatory ultrasounds for all women before a pregnancy is terminated.

“Governor Sununu just signed one of the most restrictive abortion bans in New Hampshire history. It could put doctors in jail for up to seven years. Requires a mother to deliver her baby, even if it can’t survive. And there are no exceptions for rape or incest,” says a female narrator in a new ad hitting the airwaves this week.

The spot comes from Amplify NH, a progressive advocacy group formed this summer that’s aggressively taken aim at Sununu, who has yet to decide if he’ll challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan next year, run for reelection for a fourth two-year term steering New Hampshire, or return to the private sector.

Amplify NH tells the Monitor that it’s spending at least $1 million – a very sizeable amount – to run the commercial on broadcast and cable TV in the Granite State as well as on digital platforms.

After Sununu in late June signed into law the budget passed by the Republican-controlled state House of Representatives and Senate, the New Hampshire Democratic Party and allied outside groups pledged “over the coming weeks and months” to “aggressively hold Sununu accountable.” Planned Parenthood New Hampshire Action Fund almost immediately started running digital ads taking aim at the governor over the abortion issue.

The new ad by Amplify NH comes in the wake of last week’s vote by the four Republicans on the five-member Executive Council to defund three family health care facilities operated by Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, Equality Health Center, and Lovering Health Center. The facilities provide low-cost care to roughly 12,000 people, with most receiving cancer screenings, birth control, and STD testing and treatment through the state’s family planning program. But all three also provide abortion services.

While Sununu brought up the contracts in hopes of council approval and was critical of the votes of the GOP councilors, Democrats took aim at the governor, charging that his longstanding emphasis that he’s a pro-choice is a falsehood.

“This is not a pro-choice governor. This is not even a pro-women governor,” Democratic U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a former three-term governor, said at the beginning of the week during a news conference with the other members of the state’s congressional delegation, including Hassan.

At his own weekly news conference and during multiple interviews in recent days, Sununu fired back at the Democrats.

“It’s politics at its worst,” the governor argued during an interview with morning news-talk radio host Chris Ryan on “New Hampshire Today.”

“People know where I stand on that issue. They’ve been trying to attack me on that issue for years, knowing that it doesn’t ring true. There’s no truth to it,” Sununu charged. “It gets them absolutely nowhere.”

The governor once again offered that he’s open to making changes to the abortions provisions in the budget.

“I’ve always said I think we need to get rid of the ultrasound provision and maybe put some other provisions in there that folks have asked for on the other side,” he said.

As for the family planning contracts downed by the Republican council members, Sununu said he is still going to try to get those passed even if “a lot of folks in my own party may not love that.”

“Those contracts provide very necessary health care for women and children,” he said.

Two of the four Republicans on the Executive Council – Joseph Kenney and Janet Stevens – may be reconsidering their votes, after claiming this past week that insufficient information led to their votes.

Sununu’s poll position

A new survey of Granite Staters suggests that Sununu’s stratospheric poll numbers are coming back to Earth.

The governor stands at 57% approval and 37% disapproval in a University of New Hampshire Survey Center poll conducted Sept. 16-20 and released this week.

While just about any politician would love those kinds of numbers, it’s the first time in UNH polling since the coronavirus pandemic swept the nation in March of last year that Sununu’s rating as governor has registered below 60% approval. And the 37% disapproval is the highest in UNH polling since Sununu took over in the Corner Office in January of 2017.

The poll points to a predictable wide partisan divide over the governor, with 90% of Republicans but just 27% of Democrats giving him a thumbs up on the job he’s doing. About 51% of independents said they approve of how the governor’s handling his duties.

“The percentage of independents who approve of Sununu’s performance has declined for the third consecutive month,” the UNH polling memo highlights. And as we move closer to next year’s Senate and gubernatorial election, the survey also notes that “the percentage of Democrats who approve [of Sununu] is at an all-time low.”

Sununu stands at 60% approval and 35% disapproval on his handling of the COVID crisis. While still way above water, the governor’s approval on the issue has steadily eroded.

Also deteriorating is the governor’s favorable rating. It currently stands at 44%, down from 51% in a UNH survey in July. Sununu’s 31% unfavorable rating is the highest ever recorded in UNH polling.

According to the survey, 48% of Granite Staters believe New Hampshire’s on the right track, 30% say it’s on the wrong track, and just over one in five are unsure.

“For the first time in nearly two decades of Granite State Polls, less than half of Granite Staters think the state is headed in the right direction,” the UNH release highlighted.

One-thousand and eighty-one New Hampshire adults were questioned in the UNH survey. The poll’s overall sampling error is plus or minus three percentage points.

Sununu’s standing among Granite Staters stood at 64%-34% in a Saint Anselm College Survey Center poll conducted Aug. 24-26. Hassan stood at 44% approval and 48% disapproval in that survey.

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