By Kate Scanlon
With their political equivalent of a No. 1 draft pick rejecting a 2022 Senate bid, Republicans are left searching for a backup plan.
New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu on Tuesday stunned the political world by announcing he wouldn’t seek to challenge Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan next year. That despite heavy courting from Republican Senate leaders in Washington. Sununu said he would instead seek reelection as governor, a position he first won in 2016.
And that leaves no prominent Republican to challenge Hassan, Sununu’s predecessor as New Hampshire’s governor, who won her Senate seat in 2016 by defeating an incumbent Republican.
“The question is, Hassan is a former governor and a U.S. senator, is there someone who kind of matches that level of politician,” Dean Spiliotes, a professor of political science at Southern New Hampshire University, told the Washington Examiner. “It’s hard to see who that might be.”
Just one Republican has entered New Hampshire’s Senate race: retired Army Brig. Gen. Don Bolduc, who has lagged behind Hassan in fundraising and the polls.
Sources close to former Sen. Kelly Ayotte, the Republican Hassan beat in 2016, told WMUR she would not be a candidate for public office in 2022. Former Massachusetts Republican Sen. Scott Brown, a current New Hampshire resident, dismissed speculation he would enter the race, telling reporters he is focused on supporting his wife, Gail Huff Brown, in her bid for Congress.
Senate Republicans have long eyed New Hampshire as a linchpin to winning the Senate majority in 2022. With the Senate currently divided 50-50 and Vice President Kamala Harris’s tiebreaking vote giving Democrats the majority, New Hampshire loomed large in 2022 GOP plans. Competitive Senate contests are expected in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and other states, with the electoral map still in flux.
Spiliotes added that while “anything’s possible,” particularly if 2022 turns out to be a bad year for Democrats, as recent elections in Virginia and New Jersey seemed to foreshadow, Sununu’s announcement “recasts the race in a somewhat different light now.”
The state Democratic Party had as recently as last week told its supporters that it would oppose Sununu’s “McConnell-backed campaign” for Senate but quickly shifted gears to oppose his reelection as governor. In a statement provided to the Washington Examiner, New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley said, “Looks like Chris Sununu realized what I’ve always known: Maggie Hassan has a record of delivering for New Hampshire — and beating Republicans year after year.”
“Let’s be clear about why he didn’t run: his approval ratings are in free fall after signing an abortion ban and completely mismanaging our state’s handling of the pandemic,” Buckley said. “He has never been so unpopular and so vulnerable, and he is in trouble. Granite Staters are sick and tired of Chris Sununu’s record of failure as Governor and I look forward to electing a Democratic Governor in 2022 who will do what Sununu has failed to do in five years: fight for Granite Staters.”
A spokesperson for the New Hampshire Republican Party declined to comment on Sununu’s announcement.
Dave Rexrode, executive director of the Republican Governors Association, celebrated Sununu’s bid for reelection.
“Over the past six years Governor Sununu has fought for and delivered real results for the people of New Hampshire in some exceptionally challenging times,” Rexrode said in a statement. “The RGA is committed to helping Governor Sununu build on his record of keeping taxes low, strengthening the economy, supporting our students and teachers, and keeping New Hampshire a great place to live, work, and raise a family. Democrat candidates risk their own political peril by challenging Governor Sununu and the RGA will be there to support his campaign.”