On the trail: What Sununu’s Maine trip says about a potential 2022 Senate run

  • New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu will travel to Maine for an event supporting the campaign of Paul LePage for governor. Charles Krupa / AP

For the Monitor
Published: 10/6/2021 7:50:39 PM

Gov. Chris Sununu’s making the short trip over the state line to Maine this month, and that’s sparking more speculation regarding a potential Republican challenge by the governor against Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan in next year’s midterm elections.

Sununu will headline a fundraiser for former Maine Gov. Paul LePage on Oct. 20 in Kennebunkport. LePage is trying to win back his old job as he challenges his Democratic successor Gov. Janet Mills, in what may end up being one of the marquee gubernatorial showdowns across the country in 2022.

LePage, who was first elected governor in 2010 and reelected four years later, was prevented by term limits from seeking a third straight term in 2018. In Maine, a governor can serve an unlimited number of terms, but only two in a row.

The bombastic LePage became known both inside Maine and across the country for stirring controversy thanks to his off-the-cuff remarks during his tenure as governor.

The New Hampshire Democratic Party quickly took aim at Sununu after the news of his LePage fundraiser broke, charging that “by campaigning with LePage, Sununu is once again making clear that he is more interested in playing to the most extreme and divisive people in his party than doing what is right for New Hampshire.”

But the stop in Maine, following his visit to California last month to headline that state GOP’s annual convention, has political analysts and pundits reading the tea leaves, wondering whether the trips suggest the governor’s leaning more towards launching a U.S. Senate run next year rather than running for a fourth two-year term steering New Hampshire.

“Gov. Sununu has a very strong and unique political brand,” longtime New Hampshire based Republican consultant Jim Merrill told the Monitor. “It’s no surprise to me that there’s interest in him, whether it’s in California or Maine, coast to coast, coming to speak to Republicans and telling his story.”

Merrill, a veteran of numerous Republican presidential and statewide campaigns the past two decades, said the trips “suggest he’s looking to expand his brand, and as we know Senate races inherently become national races.”

What Cruz’s endorsement of Leavitt says about 2024

Sen. Ted Cruz is weighing into an increasingly crowded race for the 2022 Republican nomination in New Hampshire’s 1st Congressional District, one of the nation’s premier congressional battlegrounds.

The influential conservative lawmaker from Texas this week endorsed GOP candidate Karoline Leavitt, a 24-year old veteran of former President Donald Trump’s White House, saying in a statement that “it’s time we send a new generation of leaders to Washington D.C.”

Leavitt, a Granite State native who briefly worked for New York Rep. Elise Stefanik after the end of the Trump administration, is one of six Republicans vying for the party’s nomination in the race for the seat held by two-term Democratic Rep. Chris Pappas, whom the National Republican Congressional Committee views as vulnerable. The GOP needs a net gain of just five seats in next year’s midterms to win back the House majority.

The GOP field includes Matt Mowers, a former New Hampshire GOP executive director who worked for Chris Christie in New Jersey and served in the State Department during the Trump administration. Mowers lost to Pappas by five points last November. Also in the race is Gail Huff Brown, a longtime TV news reporter who announced her candidacy on Tuesday. Huff Brown is the wife of former Republican Sen. Scott Brown, who served as U.S. ambassador to New Zealand during the Trump administration.

While the endorsement is all about 2022, it does spark 2024 speculation about Cruz, who was the runner-up to Trump in the 2016 Republican presidential nomination race and is seen by pundits as a potential GOP White House hopeful next time around.

Cruz generated buzz in August by traveling to Iowa – the state whose caucuses for half a century have kicked off the presidential nominating calendar. One of his stops while there was headlining a fundraiser for Republican congressional candidate Nicole Hasso, who similar to Leavitt, is running in a contested GOP House primary.

The old rule of thumb for potential White House hopefuls was to stay neutral in party primaries in the early voting states in the preceding midterm elections. But like so much in campaign politics, those norms have dramatically changed in recent years.

“I think they’re completely out the window. I think the laws of political physics have been bent in the last five years in a lot of ways. That’s one of them,” Merrill noted. “I think today the upside of getting involved early with someone you have a relationship with, you know, you believe in, there’s a lot of upside to getting involved early for potential presidential candidates.”

Cozzens touts Sununu’s tweet

Jeff Cozzens, who earlier this week become the second Republican to launch a campaign in hopes of challenging five-term Democratic Rep. Annie Kuster in New Hampshire’s Second Congressional District, is showcasing praise from Sununu.

“We just wanted to reach out and see if you saw what Governor Chris Sununu had to say about Jeff’s announcement,” read an email from Cozzens’ congressional campaign to supporters on Wednesday.

A day earlier, Sununu tweeted that there’s “No one in New Hampshire I’d rather have a beer with than my friend Jeff Cozzens. Jeff is the real deal— authentic, hard working, a community leader. Democracy is better when good people step up to run for office.”

The 47-year-old first time candidate, Lyman resident, and the owner of the Schilling Beer Co. in Littleton, launched his congressional campaign at the beginning of the week.

Cozzens is also a national security expert with an emphasis in Islamic militancy. The former U.S. State Department employee has also worked as a private consultant with the Pentagon and other government agencies. And he also has developed a working relationship with the governor, who appointed Cozzens to the Community College of New Hampshire board of trustees.

Cozzens becomes the second Republican candidate in the 2nd Congressional District primary, joining former Hillsborough County Treasurer and 2018 congressional candidate Robert Burns.




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