Sununu doesn’t close door to 2020 Senate challenge against Shaheen

  • Republican Gov. Chris Sununu smiles after his inauguration address during a ceremony at the State House in Concord on Jan. 3. Two recent polls indicated a hypothetical matchup between Sununu and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen would be very tight. Shaheen, a former New Hampshire governor, has served in the U.S. Senate since 2009. AP

For the Monitor
Published: 3/13/2019 3:49:58 PM

Republican Gov. Chris Sununu’s opening the door a bit to the possibility of taking on Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen next year rather than bidding for a third term steering New Hampshire.

Sununu on Wednesday said he’s not ruling anything out and called Shaheen “very vulnerable.” The Democratic senator and former governor announced in late January that she would run for re-election to a third term.

The comments are sure to spark increased speculation about Sununu’s 2020 intentions.

Sununu has repeatedly vowed that he has no interest in running for the U.S. Senate.

“I have absolutely no interest,” he told the Monitor last June. “I’m a manager. I love to manage.”

It’s a line he repeated numerous times in recent months.

But Wednesday morning, in an appearance on the “New Hampshire Today with Jack Heath” radio program, Sununu altered his response. Asked if he would rule out a GOP challenge against Shaheen, Sununu said, “I don’t rule anything out.”

Sununu repeated that comment a few hours later when taking questions from the Monitor and WMUR.

“In all frankness, I haven’t thought about it too much,” Sununu said when asked about his timetable on deciding whether to run for re-election or for the Senate.

It’s doubtful Sununu will make any decisions about the 2020 election until after the current legislative session is over and the state’s next two-year budget has been signed.

Two recent public opinion surveys are once again firing up the rumor mill. Both polls – from Emerson College and UMass-Amherst – indicated a hypothetical matchup between the popular Democratic senator and popular GOP governor would be all knotted up.

Sununu highlighted that “one thing that was evident of those polls is people in the state want someone other than Jeanne Shaheen. Otherwise that poll wouldn’t have had her tied with someone who’s right now not even considering running.

“I think the mandate is very clear. They want someone other than Jeanne Shaheen. Whether it’s myself or another candidate, she’s very vulnerable,” he emphasized.

The surveys generated a lot of buzz with some Republican Party officials in Washington, who would love to play some offense. Republicans are expected to mostly play defense in the 2020 cycle as they defend their 53-47 majority in the Senate.

The New Hampshire Democratic Party highlighted Shaheen’s efforts on behalf of the Granite State and took aim at Sununu.

“Jeanne Shaheen is doing her job for New Hampshire – like fighting to protect funding at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard from President Donald Trump. Sununu ought to have the guts to join the senator in standing up for New Hampshire rather than making phony political predictions,” longtime party chairman Ray Buckley said.

If Sununu ended up facing off against Shaheen, it would be the third showdown between the two political families.

Then-governor Shaheen lost the 2002 Senate election to then-Congressman John E. Sununu, the current governor’s older brother. Shaheen defeated the incumbent Republican senator in their 2008 rematch.

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