By Kate Scanlon
Approval ratings for New Hampshire Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan and GOP Gov. Chris Sununu have fallen recently, suggesting a tight race if the Granite State political titans face off for Senate in 2022.
Hassan is running for her second, six-year Senate term. She was previously governor for four years, preceding Sununu in leading the state. But just one-third of New Hampshire residents have a favorable opinion of Hassan, while 51% have an unfavorable opinion of her, a Granite State Poll conducted by the University New Hampshire Survey Center released this week found.
The race is a linchpin to Senate control after the 2022 elections. The Senate is currently divided 50-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking ties.
Hassan’s favorability rating dipped by five percentage points since the same poll was conducted last month. This month’s poll marks the first time a majority of residents said they have an unfavorable view of Hassan.
In matchups with potential Republican rivals next year, Hassan trailed behind Sununu, 45%-42%. Though Hassan polled ahead of former Sen. Kelly Ayotte by 1 percentage point, she led retired Gen. Don Bolduc, the only announced Republican candidate, 47%-42%.
Other New Hampshire polls have shown similarly close races should Sununu enter the field next year.
But Sununu, who has not entered the race, although he has said he will announce his decision within the next few weeks, has also seen a dip in his approval rating, according to another Granite State Poll this week. While a majority of New Hampshire residents, 54%, approve of Sununu’s job performance, 40% disapprove. In May 2020, Sununu’s approval rating was at 82% for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dante Scala, a professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire, told the Washington Examiner that the bad news for Hassan “shouldn’t hide the warning signs for Sununu as well.”
Scala said governors in New Hampshire often govern toward the middle, and their public perception shifts when they become more partisan as a candidate for federal office.
“Hassan’s numbers are poor, but Sununu’s numbers are not sterling,” Scala said. “The shine has come off of him.”
Dean Spiliotes, a professor of political science at Southern New Hampshire University, concurred, telling the Washington Examiner the polls “mirror what we’re seeing on the national level.”
“Sununu is getting grazed by national politics,” Spiliotes said. “For the longest time, he was able to keep national ideological battles at arm’s length.”
Both the Republican and Democratic state parties expressed optimism in their chances in next year’s race while tying their candidates — or potential candidates — to national issues.
Stephen Stepanek, chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party, told the Washington Examiner that “this latest UNH poll is an absolute disaster for Sen. Maggie Hassan.”
“The more time she spends in New Hampshire and the more money she spends on TV ads in support of her, the more her favorability sinks to new lows,” Stepanek said. “She’s lost ground to three separate Republican candidates, two of whom are purely hypothetical.”
Stepanek drew a comparison between Hassan’s approval rating and President Joe Biden’s, saying both have “cratered,” showing how “increasingly unpopular the Democrats’ D.C. agenda is among Granite Staters.”
“We are going to replace Maggie Hassan next year with a Republican who believes in the New Hampshire Advantage and supports our Granite State values,” Stepanek said.
Ray Buckley, chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, said in a statement to the Washington Examiner that “On the verge of a Mitch McConnell-backed run for US Senate, Chris Sununu’s popularity is dropping fast with Granite Staters, and it’s a sign that his poor handling of the pandemic and his anti-choice agenda are toxic with New Hampshire voters.”
“There is a strong backlash from Granite Staters to Chris Sununu’s anti-choice agenda and his abdication of leadership on the state’s handling of the pandemic — and he heads into any potential US Senate weakened,” Buckley said.
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