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If moderate Republicans don’t want to go to Washington, how will things ever change?

Like Charlie Baker, the Republican governors of Vermont and New Hampshire are popular with people outside their party, but Phil Scott and Chris Sununu have zero desire to go to Washington.

Vermont Governor Phil ScottWilson Ring/Associated Press

On the same day Senator Patrick Leahy, the Democrat and most senior member of the Senate, announced he would not seek reelection, the most popular politician in Leahy’s home state made it clear he has no interest in Leahy’s seat.

Vermont Governor Phil Scott, a Republican, has been reelected twice in landslides in a state where Democrats and Progressives greatly outnumber Republicans. In his 2020 reelection, Scott won a bigger percentage of the vote than Bernie Sanders did in his reelection to the Senate in 2018.

A new Morning Consult poll lists Scott as the most popular governor in the country.


Scott’s refusal to even countenance running for Leahy’s seat came just a week after New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu announced he would not challenge Senator Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, next year.

Given their ability to attract independent voters, and, especially in Scott’s case, even Democrats, both governors would have stood more than a decent chance to win. Sununu was leading Hassan in early polls.

Scott and Sununu have been open about why they won’t run: Washington is a hyperpartisan, gridlocked snake pit best avoided by those who want to get things done.

Rounding out the top four governors with the highest job approval are Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, Larry Hogan of Maryland, and Sununu, all Republicans.

Baker and Hogan govern states where Democrats heavily outnumber Republicans, and Sununu presides over a battleground state where the entire congressional delegation is Democrat.

The other thing these Republican governors share is that, while very popular in their states, they either have little in common or want nothing to do with the national GOP, which remains in thrall to, and in the hulking shadow of, Donald Trump. It is a party that feeds on false narratives, that glories in madness; nothing like the grand old party which remains the center of gravity for these four popular governors.


Even when Trump was president, Scott, Sununu, Baker, and Hogan regularly called him out. While many leading Republicans have embraced the Big Lie that Trump won the election, have downplayed or dismissed as insignificant the Jan. 6 insurrection, and have encouraged their supporters to ignore science when it comes to COVID-19, these four Republican governors have alienated the most partisan of their party by telling the truth.

Speaking to reporters when he announced he would not challenge Hassan, Sununu said he’d rather run for a fourth term as governor because he could get more accomplished in Concord than he ever could in Washington.

“We have a lot more to do to protect the interests of New Hampshire citizens, and it’s just clear that I can be most effective doing that here in the corner office in the Granite State,” he said.

Tellingly, Sununu had not even given a heads up to GOP officials in Washington, who were urging him to run, before he made his announcement.

“I guess you’ll have to let them know,” he said. “I haven’t talked to them.”

Talk about throwing shade.

That three of the four most popular governors in the country are New England Republicans who have dared to call out the dishonesty of their own party’s leadership should be a source of pride, if not optimism.

But given how out of step those three governors are with their national party leaders, pessimism seems more appropriate.


The day after Pat Leahy announced he was retiring, I asked Phil Scott how hyperpartisanship in Washington could ever dissipate if moderate voices like his weren’t heard there.

“You make a good point,” he conceded. “I think there needs to be more moderates, more centrists, in Washington. I just choose not to be one of them.

“It’s something that takes a different style, maybe a different approach than I’m willing to contend with,” he added. “This isn’t partisan. A moderate centrist in Washington is among the minority, unfortunately. I’ve served my entire political life in the minority, and I’m not sure that I want to jump into that quagmire.”

Actually, he is sure. That’s the problem.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at kevin.cullen@globe.com.