On the trail: Hassan-Sununu virtually tied in potential 2022 Senate showdown

  • Gov. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., left listens as Gov.-elect Chris Sununu speaks at the Governor's agency budget hearings Friday, Nov. 18, 2016, in Concord, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole) Jim Cole

For the Monitor
Published: 7/22/2021 5:18:33 PM

If Republican Gov. Chris Sununu faces off in November of next year against Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan in what would be one of the nation’s marquee 2022 Senate battles, a new poll indicates the race – as of now – would be a dead heat.

Sununu stands at 49% support and Hassan grabs the backing of 48% of likely voters in next year’s midterm elections, according to a University of New Hampshire Granite State Poll released on Thursday, which asked respondents who they would support if the Senate election were held today. Three percent of those questioned said they were undecided or would support someone else.

The one-point edge Sununu holds over his predecessor in the corner office is well within the survey’s sampling error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

The new survey will likely further magnify national attention on the potential showdown between Hassan and Sununu. The popular three-term governor has been heavily courted by national Republicans – all the way up to longtime Senate GOP Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky – to take on Hassan next year.

The Senate is currently split 50-50 between the two major parties, but Democrats hold a razor-thin majority in the chamber due to the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Kamala Harris through her constitutional role as president of the Senate.

Looking at the electoral map, Republicans are playing plenty of defense. They’re trying to protect 20 of the 34 seats up for grabs in next year’s midterm elections – including five open seats where GOP incumbents are retiring. But the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the reelection arm of the Senate GOP, sees strong pickup opportunities in Georgia, Arizona, Nevada and here in New Hampshire.

Sununu is taking his time as he decides whether to challenge Hassan, run for reelection to a fourth two-year term steering New Hampshire, or not running at all in 2022 and returning to the private sector.

“It really could be until the winter. I mean, I’m not even talking late summer. I can tell you there’s no decision this summer,” Sununu told longtime New Hampshire radio broadcaster and host Mike Pomp on his morning program at WTSN earlier this month.

The hypothetical matchup between Hassan and Sununu is basically unchanged from UNH’s previous survey in February, when Sununu had a two-point edge over Hassan, who’s running next year for a second six-year term representing New Hampshire in the U.S. Senate. A Saint Anselm College Survey Center poll conducted in March indicated Sununu with a 47%-41% advantage over Hassan, with 12% undecided or backing someone else.

Hassan grabbed 96% support from self-identified Democrats questioned in the UNH poll, with Sununu landing the backing of 97% of Republicans. The survey indicated that undeclared registered voters split their support between Hassan and Sununu, with the smaller pool of self-identified independents favoring the governor by 14 points over the senator.

UNH Survey Center director Andrew Smith highlighted large gender and education divides.

“Sununu leads Hassan by 22 percentage points among men while Hassan leads Sununu by 19 points among women,” Smith wrote. “Sununu leads Hassan by 47 percentage points among those with a high school education or less while Hassan leads by 49 points among those who have completed post graduate work.”

The poll indicated Sununu with a 48%-25% favorable/unfavorable rating, down from the previous UNH survey conducted a month ago. Hassan remained underwater with a 37%-40% favorable/unfavorable rating, a slight increase from UNH’s April survey.

Hassan, a two-term governor, edged Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte by the razor thin margin of just 1,017 votes in 2016 in what was one of the top Senate showdowns that election cycle.

In a hypothetical Hassan-Ayotte 2022 rematch, the UNH survey indicates the current senator edging the former senator 49%-45%, with six percent undecided or backing someone else.

While Republicans see Hassan as vulnerable next year, Democrats argue that the she’s a politician who just keeps winning.

Retired Gen. Don Bolduc, who unsuccessfully ran for the 2020 GOP Senate nomination, is currently the only declared Republican candidate in the 2022 Senate race.

The survey indicates Hassan topping Bolduc 51%-41% if the hypothetical showdown took place now.

The UNH Survey Center poll was conducted July 15-19, with 1,540 likely 2022 elections voters in New Hampshire questioned online.

Trump’s GOP primary prowess

In 2016, Donald Trump easily bested the competition in New Hampshire’s presidential primary, launching him towards the Republican nomination and eventually the White House.

The UNH survey suggests that if the 2024 presidential primary were held right now, the former president would once again crush his GOP rivals in the Granite State.

Trump grabs the support of 47% of likely New Hampshire Republican voters in a hypothetical presidential primary, with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis a distant second at 19%.

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during the Trump administration, landed 6% support, with former Vice President Mike Pence at 5%. Everyone else came in at 2% or less in the survey.

While Trump’s 47% support stands far above the rest of the field, it’s nearly 20 points lower than the 66% of New Hampshire Republicans who said in a separate question that they’d like to see the former president make another White House bid in 2024.

Trump’s favorable rating among all New Hampshire voters stands at just 33%, but his favorable rating among self-identified Republicans is a healthy 70%.

The former president, six months removed from the White House, remains very popular with GOP voters across the country, as he continues to play a kingmaker’s role in Republican politics and repeatedly flirts with another White House run.

DeSantis, a first-term governor and Trump ally who soared in popularity among conservatives nationwide for his resistance to lockdowns and COVID restrictions amid the coronavirus pandemic, held a 69%-5% favorable/unfavorable rating in the poll.

That isn’t the case for Pence.

While the former vice president’s speech in early June in Manchester was interrupted by numerous standing ovations by the sold-out crowd of conservative activists and leaders at the Hillsborough County GOP’s Lincoln-Reagan Day dinner, his favorable/unfavorable rating in the survey stands at 38%-33%.

Pence has been in a precarious position among some in the GOP base since the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by right-wing extremists and other Trump supporters aiming to disrupt congressional certification of now-President Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory.

The then-vice president was at the Capitol at the time it was stormed, overseeing the joint session of Congress. By following his Constitutional duties instead of following Trump’s wishes and overturn the results, Pence has endured the wrath of the former president and some of Trump’s most devout loyalists and supporters.

In his New Hampshire speech, Pence – who along with members of Congress was forced to move to secure rooms while the Capitol was stormed – called the attack a “dark” and “tragic” day in American history. But he emphasized, “that same day we reconvened the Congress and did our duty under the Constitution and the laws of the United States.”

Pence, Trump’s loyal right-hand man the past four years, highlighted that he and the former president have spoken “many times” since the end of their administration in January. But hinted at a now frayed relationship between the two.

“I don’t know if we’ll ever see eye to eye about that day,” Pence said.

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