CONCORD, N.H. — New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu announced Tuesday he will run for reelection next year, scuttling plans for what had been an expected run for the US Senate that likely would have pitted him against Maggie Hassan in one of the most high-profile races in the 2022 midterm elections.
Sununu’s decision to pass on the Senate race is a huge blow to Republicans nationally, who long believed New Hampshire was their best shot to flip a seat from Democrat to Republican. Among those who urged him to run for the Senate were US Senator Mitt Romney and former president George W. Bush, Sununu said.
In an evenly divided Senate, every contest next year is critical in deciding which party will control the nation’s upper chamber for the second half of President Joe Biden’s first term. Polls have found Sununu, a Republican, has consistently ranked as one of the most popular governors in the country, a few spots below Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker. Sununu won reelection to a third term in 2020 by a 65 percent to 33 percent margin over the Democratic nominee, former state Senate majority leader Dan Feltes.
Hassan, meanwhile, is arguably one of the most vulnerable Senate Democrats running for reelection next year. She won the seat in 2016 by the slimmest of margins — just about 1,000 votes — over Republican incumbent Kelly Ayotte. Since then, her approval ratings have frequently hovered around 50 percent.
Sununu made his announcement at a news conference inside of the ceremonial governor’s mansion in Concord, a home he lived in as a child when his dad, John H. Sununu, served as governor in the 1980s. Like most governors since then, however, Sununu lives with his family at a private residence.
“My responsibility is not the gridlock and politics of Washington. It’s to the people, and I’d rather push myself 120 miles an hour delivering wins than just slow down up on Capitol Hill,” said Sununu. “That’s why I’m running for a fourth term” as governor.
In Manchester, at a news conference Tuesday morning touting the recently passed bipartisan infrastructure plan, Hassan said despite a major contender not running, she expects her reelection run to be “tough” because they always are in an evenly divided state politically.
“Whoever my opponent is, you know Mitch McConnell is spending an awful lot against me right now,” said Hassan.
Polls of a hypothetical matchup between Sununu and Hassan have been consistent on two points. First, the race was within the margin of error. Second, Sununu had a slight edge.
With Sununu out, however, Republicans in New Hampshire and nationally spent the rest of Tuesday recognizing they didn’t have a Plan B and trying to find one.
Moments after Sununu declined to run, former US Senator from New Hampshire Kelly Ayotte also ruled one out. Former Massachusetts senator Scott Brown, who ran for the Senate in New Hampshire in 2014, said he was focusing on his wife’s run for Congress in the state. That has left the party to discuss whether Republican Congressional candidates Matt Mowers or Jeff Cozzens switch to run for the Senate. Also, expect Republicans to put pressure on state Senate President Chuck Morse and state Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut, who was gearing up to run for governor had Sununu run for Senate.
“There is a huge hole for Republicans right now, but the thing is that even a B-minus Republican candidate could defeat Hassan if this bad political environment continues,” said University of New Hampshire political science professor Dante Scala.
There are a pair of Republicans already running: retired United States Army brigadier general Don Bolduc and activist Tejasinha Sivalingam. Bolduc lost the Republican nomination for US Senate two years ago after then-President Donald Trump endorsed his primary opponent. Sivalingam has lost a number of attempts to become a New Hampshire state representative.
Sununu’s potential Senate run had surprised no one paying attention to New Hampshire politics. Over the past year, his public statements have only grown more vocal against Democratic control in Washington and he previously indicated that he was open to running.
The decision not to run for Senate upended the state’s political conventional wisdom. His travel schedule had suggested he was laying the groundwork for a US Senate campaign. Sununu embarked on several “Super 603″ days where he starred in digitally focused advertisements for the state’s parks and businesses using New Hampshire’s singular area code as a moniker.
Interestingly, Sununu didn’t totally rule out serving in Washington, D.C., just serving in the Senate. Asked he was thinking about running for president instead, Sununu said he keeps “all my options on the table. I really do. You never know what tomorrow is going to bring or what the issue of the day is going to bring. So I’ve had people talk to me about that.”
James Pindell can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell and on Instagram @jameswpindell.