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On the Trail: Sununu says 2022 decision ‘a few weeks away’

  • 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: 10/22/2021 4:23:43 PM

The waiting game in New Hampshire may soon be over.

Gov. Chris Sununu said Friday in interviews on two separate morning talk radio programs in the Granite State that he’ll have an announcement on his political future “in the next few weeks.”

The Republican governor is deciding whether to run for the Senate by launching a GOP challenge against Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan, run for reelection to fourth two-year term steering the Granite State, or not run for anything in 2022 and return to the private sector.

Sununu’s decision will likely set in motion a flurry of 2022 announcements by other politicians on both sides of the aisle, and it will impact not only New Hampshire’s Senate and gubernatorial races, but it could also affect the midterm battle for the state’s First Congressional District, a top national U.S. House battleground.

With the GOP needing a net gain of just one U.S. Senate seat in next year’s midterms to regain the majority they lost when they were swept in January’s twin Senate runoffs in Georgia, the looming race in New Hampshire could ultimately decide whether the Democrats or the Republicans control the chamber come 2023.

National Republicans view Hassan, a first-term senator and Sununu’s predecessor as governor, as very vulnerable heading into next year’s midterms. And they see Sununu, whose poll numbers are flagging but still remain very high among Republicans and in positive territory among independents, and who’s carefully navigated his relationship with former President Trump the past six years, as their key to flipping a crucial blue seat red.

“I have been thinking a lot more about it,” Sununu told host Chris Ryan on “New Hampshire Today.” He added than an announcement on his decision would come “I think in the next few weeks.”

Sununu repeated the timetable in an interview with host Jack Heath on “Good Morning NH,” saying “my hope is to have a decision more public in the next few weeks.”

And in both interviews he teased that he’s “definitely been leaning one way to be sure,” but wouldn’t indicate which way.

The governor noted “my family is very much on board with whatever I want to do. They’re very supportive.”

But he emphasized the decision making process is not over.

“I still have a few more people I want to talk to and get some other folks’ advice,” he said. Among those he’s still seeking advice from are his father, former three-term Gov. John H. Sununu (who also served as chief of staff in then-President George H.W. Bush’s administration) and one of his older brothers, John E. Sununu, a former congressman who served one-term in the U.S. Senate.

A lobbying effort by national Republicans this year to recruit Sununu to run in the Senate race has included phone calls from Senate GOP Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, and other prominent Republicans. Former President Donald Trump, who nine months removed from the White House remains very popular with Republicans as he continues to play a kingmaker’s role in GOP politics and repeatedly flirts with another presidential run in 2024, said earlier this year that he’d “like to see” Sununu challenge Hassan.

Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the Senate GOP’s reelection arm, gave similar encouragement after meeting privately with Sununu during a stop in New Hampshire in August.

“I hope he runs for the Senate, and I’m going to do my best to get him there,” Scott said.

A Hassan-Sununu face-off would be one of the most competitive, crucial and expensive Senate showdowns in next year’s midterms. Hassan’s building a formidable war chest, and has already spent heavily to go up with TV and digital ads in New Hampshire. Hassan is the only one of the four Democratic incumbents running for reelection in 2022 whom the National Republican Senatorial Committee has targeted with ads. The other three Democrats the GOP views as vulnerable are Sens. Raphael Warnock of Georgia, Mark Kelly of Arizona, and Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada.

Poll position

A University of New Hampshire survey conducted Oct. 14-18 and released this week indicated Sununu at 45% and Hassan at 42% among likely 2022 general election voters in the Granite State. It’s the latest survey this year to indicate Sununu holding a very slight edge over Hassan in a potential showdown next year.

Republicans have been spotlighting another number in the poll, which indicates Hassan with a 33% favorable and 51% unfavorable rating.

“Is Maggie Hassan the Most Unpopular U.S. Senator in America?” read the subject line of an NRSC email on Friday, which spotlighted an analysis piece by the pro-GOP NH Journal.

Meanwhile, Democrats are highlighting that Sununu’s poll numbers – which skyrocketed during the coronavirus pandemic, are coming back to earth. He stands at 41%-36% favorable/unfavorable in the new poll, and his approval rating as governor – while still positive – is down to 54%. Sununu’s disapproval is up to 40%, the highest during his tenure as governor.

“Governor Sununu’s Job Approval Drops 23 Points as Granite Staters Learn About His Extreme Abortion Ban,” read the subject line of an email from the pro-Democrat advocacy group Amplify NH.

In his radio interviews, Sununu sounded like he was already running against Hassan, saying “I think she has the worst favorability numbers of any incumbent senator in the country.”

And pointing to the big bucks Hassan’s campaign has already spent to run ads in New Hampshire, he argued that “the more money she spends, the worse her numbers get. It’s quite comical actually.”

While Sununu’s nearing a decision, there is already a Republican candidate in the 2022 race.

Retired Gen. Don Bolduc, who unsuccessfully bid for the Senate GOP nomination in 2020, has been running all year. The new UNH poll suggests Bolduc trails Hassan by just five points in a hypothetical general election match up, his best performance against the Democratic incumbent to date.

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