In a blow to national Republicans’ not unrealistic hopes of retaking the Senate, New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu announced on Tuesday that he would seek reelection for a fourth term rather than challenge Senator Maggie Hassan, who is considered to be one of the vulnerable Democrats on the ballot next year.
At a press conference in Concord, Sununu argued that he could make more of an impact for the people of New Hampshire as governor, rather than getting mired in the political gridlock of Washington. “I like getting stuff done,” Sununu said. “I don’t think they could handle me down there. I’d be like a lion in a cage.”
Being a senator is certainly a different beast from serving as a state executive, as many former governors who now reside in the Senate can attest. Each senator is just one voice in one hundred, unable to act with the same immediacy and impact that they might wield as governor. Senator Tom Carper of Delaware, who previously served as governor, described to reporters on Tuesday the answer he would give when Republican governors asked which role he preferred. “I always tell them, with a smile, my worst day as governor was better than my best day as U.S. senator. And then I laugh, but I leave them wondering, ‘Is he telling the truth?’” Carper said.
Sununu, whose brother served as New Hampshire’s senator from 2003 to 2009, had previously raised concerns about the power he would have as a legislator and the effect going to Washington could have on his three children. But in his remarks on Tuesday, he roasted the Senate as inefficient and ineffective.
“I’d rather push myself 120 miles per hour delivering wins for New Hampshire than to slow down, end up on Capitol Hill debating partisan politics without results,” Sununu said on Tuesday. He added that “the more I heard” from senators about “what the day to day entails,” the more he realized that it “clearly doesn’t fit the needs of citizens.”
The House is generally considered more vulnerable to a Republican takeover in next year’s midterm elections than the Senate. Republicans are defending 20 of the 34 Senate seats up for grabs. But Democrats hold only a 50-seat majority, meaning that they could lose control of the Senate if they lose just one seat and do not pick up any currently held by Republicans. Democratic Senators Raphael Warnock in Georgia and Mark Kelly in Arizona represent states that President Joe Biden won only narrowly and will face significant challenges from well-financed Republican candidates. The seats held by Senator Catherine Cortez-Masto of Nevada, a state that is still decidedly purple, and Hassan, who won her 2016 race by roughly 1,000 votes, represent Republicans’ other best options for gaining the majority.
Sununu’s decision does not exactly hinder Republicans’ efforts to retake the upper chamber, but he was considered to be one of the party’s top potential recruits as a candidate and was lobbied personally to run by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Sununu told reporters on Tuesday that he did not let McConnell or Senator Rick Scott, the chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, know about his decision before he announced it. (“Unbelievable,” tweeted Josh Holmes, an adviser to McConnell.)
Republicans were shining the Sununu bat-signal in the sky as recently as this past weekend, when Senator Ted Cruz urged the New Hampshire governor to run for Senate in remarks at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s leadership conference in Las Vegas. “Every person here needs to come up to Chris and say, ‘Governor is great, but you need to run for Senate.’ Because this man could single-handedly retire Chuck Schumer as majority leader of the Senate,” Cruz said at the event.
Sununu is a popular elected official with a proven track record, in a purple state, unplagued by scandal. Some Republican Senate candidates have garnered negative headlines in recent weeks: Herschel Walker, running for Senate in Georgia, has been accused of threatening his ex-girlfriend, and Pennsylvania Senate candidate Sean Parnell allegedly physically abused his wife and children, allegations that he denies.
Sununu has walked the line between supporting former President Donald Trump and being willing to disagree with other Republicans. He has declared himself “a Trump guy through and through” but was quick to accept Biden as the legitimate winner of the presidential election. He outperformed Trump in New Hampshire by a significant margin, winning reelection in 2020 with 65 percent of the vote, compared to the 45 percent received by Trump.
Republicans are hardly bereft without Sununu. Gains in Virginia and New Jersey last week have buoyed the party and cemented the conventional wisdom that the party not in power tends to do very well in the first midterm after a presidential election.
“It’s obviously a disappointment, as a Sununu candidacy would immediately make [New Hampshire] the marquee race of the cycle, but given the results of last week’s elections, it’s not the mortal blow it otherwise might have been,” said Liam Donovan, a Republican strategist. “At this point, the GOP Senate majority is going to be a function of solid recruits riding a friendly environment.”
Donovan told The New Republic that Republicans needed to avoid “messy primaries” that could produce disappointing candidates and that the New Hampshire race would now be a test of that premise. “All in all, Senate [Republicans] have to feel better about where things stand today than they did a week ago, even with Sununu passing,” Donovan said.
It’s unclear who Hassan’s final opponent will be. Kelly Ayotte, whom Hassan defeated in 2016, has also ruled out a run, WMUR reported on Tuesday. Donald Bolduc, who lost to Senator Jeanne Shaheen in 2020, has announced his candidacy challenging Hassan. In September, Trump released a statement praising Bolduc, who supports the former president’s falsehoods about the 2020 election.
In a tweet on Tuesday after Sununu’s announcement, Hassan indicated that she was still taking the race seriously. “I won my last race by 1,017 votes. New Hampshire will be one of the most competitive Senate races in the country, and I’m not taking anything for granted,” Hassan said, before asking for campaign donations. Her campaign has already released TV campaign ads, a year out from the election.
But even though Sununu will not be serving as a senator anytime soon, he did not rule out going to Washington in another capacity. “I would go to Washington, but it has to be in a position, in a management, in a form that fits where I can best serve,” Sununu said.