On the trail: Edelblut or Ayotte to replace Sununu as governor?

  • 2016 Republican gubernatorial candidates, from left, Jeanie Forrester, Chris Sununu, and Frank Edelblut shake hands following a live televised debate at WMUR on Sept. 6, 2016. AP file

  • Frank Edelblut AP

  • On Jan. 31, 2017, Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut speaks at the State House in Concord during a public hearing on his nomination. AP file

For the Monitor
Published: 6/18/2021 5:25:56 PM

The biggest question hanging over New Hampshire campaign politics is whether Gov. Chris Sununu will remain in politics and launch a Republican challenge against former governor and current U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan or run for re-election for a fourth two-year term steering the Granite State; or if he will choose to return to the private sector.

If Sununu decides not to seek re-election, there’s plenty of speculation over which Republicans may seek to succeed him as the head of state government, including former U.S. Sen. and N.H Attorney General Kelly Ayotte and some past Republican contenders for the corner office. One of those is New Hampshire Education Department Commissioner Frank Edelblut.

The businessman from Wilton and conservative politician was serving his first term as a state representative when he came in a very close second – thanks to strong support from many conservative voters – to then-Executive Councilor Sununu in a bruising battle among four major candidates for the 2016 GOP gubernatorial nomination.

Sununu nominated Edleblut – who with his wife homeschooled all seven of their children – as education commissioner soon after taking office, and Edelblut’s tenure steering the department has elicited both strong support and opposition.

Edelblut was asked Thursday by radio host Jack Heath on “Good Morning New Hampshire” about a potential gubernatorial run next year if Sununu doesn’t bid for re-election

“I’m not willing to rule out anything at this point in time,” Edelblut said.

There’s also plenty of speculation that Ayotte may launch a campaign for the GOP gubernatorial nomination if Sununu doesn’t run for re-election. Sources close to Ayotte – who served as state attorney general before winning a seat in the Senate in 2010 – tell the Monitor that she’s fielding lots of calls from fellow Republicans urging her to run for governor if it’s an open seat election in 2022.

State Senate President Chuck Morse appears to be in a similar situation.

Sources close to the Republican lawmaker from Salem tell the Monitor that Morse is receiving encouragement to run for governor if Sununu doesn’t seek reelection and that he would take a long hard look at launching a gubernatorial campaign if the seat opens up.

Morse is currently getting plenty of kudos among Republicans for helping to shape what may end up being the most conservative state budget in a generation.

In the race for the other side of gubernatorial nomination in 2022, speculation surrounds a half-dozen top Democrats – three from Manchester Democrats, two from Concord and one from the Seacoast.

Some influential national organizations – such as Emily’s List, which backs Democratic female candidates who support abortion rights – would love to see Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig bid for governor. But Craig, who’s running this year for a third two-year term steering the state’s largest city, doesn’t seem inclined at this point to consider a statewide race.

There’s also plenty of speculation that if Republicans – who in New Hampshire control the once-in-a-decade redistricting process – make the First Congressional District too red, two-term Democratic Rep. Chris Pappas may run for governor, especially if Sununu decides to take on Hassan rather than seek re-election.

But Pappas told the Monitor recently that he’s “fully committed to the work I’m doing in Congress and I fully expect to be seeking re-election to this seat in 2022.”

There’s also a desire among some Manchester Democrats for state Senate Minority Leader Donna Soucy to bid for governor.

Some elected Democrats are also hoping that three-term state Sen. Tom Sherman runs. Sherman, a doctor who lives in Rye and who’s become a prolific fundraiser, has been fielding calls from fellow Democrats urging him to launch a campaign, according to sources.

Former state Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes, who as the 2020 Democratic gubernatorial nominee was soundly defeated by Sununu last year, isn’t completely ruling out another run either.

In his first interview regarding his political future since the November election, Feltes told the Monitor in April that he and his wife Erin “have no intention right now of putting my name on the ballot in 2022.”

Notice the words “right now.”

Sources close to former Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky, who lost to Feltes in last year’s Democratic gubernatorial primary, say he’s been fielding calls and receiving encouragement to consider another run for governor.

Hassan under water in new poll

A new poll of Granite Staters indicates that as the coronavirus pandemic wanes and pre-pandemic lifestyles return for those who are vaccinated, COVID-19 is fading as an issue of political importance.

According to a Saint Anselm College Survey Center poll released this week, only 13% of respondents ranked the pandemic as their top concern. The COVID crisis trailed government spending (22%), the cost of health care (20%), illegal immigration (20%), and climate change (18%) as the top issue on the minds of voters.

Looking at the three Democrats in the state’s congressional delegation who are up for re-election next year, Hassan’s approval rating is underwater in the new poll, at 43%-49%. Pappas stands at 42% approval and 39% disapproval while Second Congressional District five-term Rep. Annie Kuster registers at 43%-41% in the poll.

Sununu, who’s coronavirus performance gave him a polling boost, continues to enjoy strong approval among New Hampshire voters, at 68%-30%.

The poll suggests that Democrats have seen their support drop in the generic ballot question, which asks if a respondent would vote for the Democratic or Republican candidate in their congressional district, without offering specific names.

The Democrats have a one-point margin over the GOP (44%-43%) in the new survey, down from a 48%-40% lead over the Republicans in the Saint Anselm March poll.

The poll indicates that Granite Staters are split on their opinion of President Joe Biden’s performance in office. It was nearly a 50/50 split of those who have a negative view of the job he’s doing as president, with 50% giving him a thumbs up. Biden’s approval/disapproval dropped from February, when it 53%-46%.

The Saint Anselm College poll was conducted June 9-11, with 921 registered voters in New Hampshire questioned on-line. The survey’s overall sampling error is plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.

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