On the trail: Sununu in no rush to make 2022 decision

  • Chris Sununu's campaign office in Exeter. Paul Steinhauser—Courtesy

For the Monitor
Published: 6/12/2021 3:00:46 PM

Gov. Chris Sununu says he’s going to take his time as he mulls the biggest political decision of his career.

And for those who expected the popular three-term Republican governor to announce his next political move soon after the end of the legislative session and the signing of New Hampshire’s next two-year budget, which could happen in the coming weeks, think again.

"I won’t make a decision for a really long time,” Sununu said Thursday in an interview with host Jack Heath on the morning news/talk program “Good Morning New Hampshire.”

Sununu added that any announcement – on whether he’ll run for reelection as governor in 2022, launch a GOP Senate challenge against Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan, Sununu’s predecessor in the Corner Office, or not run for anything and return to the private sector – “is a long, long, ways off.”

“I’m really going to enjoy having a summer and fall...of just being a governor,” he emphasized.

Sununu, a popular governor whose coattails from his landslide re-election victory last November helped the Republicans win back majorities in both chambers of the state Legislature as well as the Executive Council, has earned the right to make his decision and announcement on his own timetable.

But the governor is facing a major lobbying effort by national Republicans – all the way up to U.S. Senate GOP Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell – to take on Hassan next year as Republicans try to win back the chamber. And his decision – regardless of what it may be - will trigger announcements by other New Hampshire Republicans in the Senate, gubernatorial, and even congressional races.

The governor’s political team tells the Monitor that they and Sununu are cognizant that others are waiting for a signal, and that once the governor announces his next move, the other dominoes will quickly fall.

The last time New Hampshire faced a similar situation was in the summer of 2015, as then-Gov. Hassan was facing a full-court press of lobbying by national Democrats to challenge Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who was running for reelection in 2016.

But a major standoff between Hassan and the GOP-controlled Legislature over the budget, which included a gubernatorial veto, dragged the negotiations into September. Hassan signed a compromise budget into law on Sept. 16, 2015, and less than three weeks later – on Oct. 5 – she announced her candidacy for Senate.

New Hampshire-based GOP consultant Jim Merrill emphasizes that “Gov. Sununu has earned every right to pick his time of his choosing to announce his next steps.”

But Merrill, a veteran of numerous statewide and presidential campaigns, added that “obviously, they’ll be a lot of other folks watching and waiting until he does.”

Former New Hampshire GOP chair Steve Duprey, who served for years as one of the Granite State’s committee members on the Republican National Committee, agreed that “I think it’s smart for the governor. He’s got a legislature in session and a state to govern and he has plenty of time.”

Duprey, who given his past position as Ayotte’s finance chairman, is likely to play a significant role if the former senator launches a run for governor if Sununu decides against campaigning for reelection. “I don’t think there’s any frustration by any other potential candidates that need to wait on a decision from the governor,” said Duprey. “They’re making their plans and have contingency plans. It’s still early.”

While it is early, the 2022 cycle has started at a lighting-fast pace across the country, with numerous announcements by statewide candidates at an earlier clip than in past elections. And if Sununu decides to run for the Senate, the price tag on a Senate campaign would be extremely high. Which begs the question, is Sununu handicapping himself by waiting to announce a decision?

Merrill said no, arguing that among Republicans “Sununu will be the number one draft pick in America if he decides to run for Senate next year. I think the resources are going to be there for him should he decide to go. I think there’s plenty of time for him to build the infrastructure and wage the campaign he needs to be successful in 2022.”

Showdown over state primary date

New Hampshire is known nationally for its century-old tradition of holding the first presidential primary in the race for the White House.

Less well-known is that the Granite State holds one of the last primaries for U.S. House and Senate, governor, Executive Council, and state legislative offices.

Politicians in both parties have long argued that the quick turnaround between the state primary and the general election gives incumbents not facing a primary challenge an unfair advantage.

Separate bills passed this legislative session by the state House and the state Senate would move up the date of the primary from its traditional second Tuesday in September. But that’s where the two measures diverge.

House Bill 98 would advance the state primary to the fourth Tuesday in June. The House bill, if passed into law, would take effect in time for the 2022 elections.

The Senate, in altering the House bill, would move the primary to the second Tuesday in August, and due to concerns over this year’s delay in the once-in-a-decade redistricting process, wouldn’t kick the date change until the 2024 elections.

This week the House and Senate agreed to set up a committee of conference to try and reach a consensus on the date of the state primary and when the change should take effect. If a compromise is struck, the deal would have to be approved by both chambers of the Legislature.

But it would still face roadblocks.

Both the governor and longtime New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner have voiced opposition to any change in the current September date of the state primary.

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