GOP Wants Popular New Hampshire Gov. Sununu to Oppose Sen. Hassan in '22 New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu speaks on stage prior to the NASCAR Cup Series Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire, on Aug. 2, 2020. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
By Charlie McCarthy | Monday, 17 May 2021 07:59 AM
Republicans eager to take back control of the Senate in 2022 are trying to persuade Gov. Chris Sununu, R-N.H., to run against Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H.
With the Senate split evenly along party lines, Politico said a Sununu campaign would shake up the entire Senate midterm landscape.
An incumbent 3-term governor, Sununu is fresh off a 30-plus-point victory last year in a state Biden won fairly easily. He’s also the son of a former governor and White House chief of staff, as well as the brother of a former senator.
"He’d be a great candidate," said Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. "We’re hoping he’d make the race."
"If he runs, we’ll win," said Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Multiple sources told Politico that Scott flew to meet with Sununu. The senator and NRSC declined to comment on or confirm the meeting.
Sununu has said he's considering running for the Senate, running for a fourth term as governor, or returning to the private sector.
Republicans need one Senate seat in ’22 to regain control in the upper chamber, but they also must hold onto what they currently have and defend two in states President Joe Biden won.
The GOP also hasn’t found big-name challengers for races in once-red Arizona and Georgia. Both states could see contested Republican primaries.
Hassan, a former two-term governor, won by 1,017 votes in 2016. Retaining her seat is critical for Democrats seeking to keep their majority.
Even Democrats admit Hassan’s seat could be tough to hold. Although Biden won the state by 6 percentage points last year, New Hampshire usually has highly competitive Senate races that include former governors, who serve 2-year terms.
But Hassan won in 2 tough cycles election cycles for Democrats. She prevailed as governor in 2014 and for the Senate in 2016. Politico said she has a war chest of $4.4 million after raising $2.9 million in the first 3 months of this year.
"New Hampshire’s political graveyard is full of Republicans who underestimated Maggie Hassan," said Ray Buckley, the state's Democratic Party chair.
Sununu won his 3 gubernatorial campaigns by increasingly large margins, though defeating Hassan likely would pose a more difficult challenge. He raised $1.7 million in 2020 — less than Hassan raised in the first quarter this year.
Sununu said he will decide his plans later this year, and not before the legislature’s session ends next month. His aides did not comment to Politico.
"I would very much like for the governor to run," Stephen Stepanek, the state GOP chair, told Politico. "I've talked to the governor about it. He's holding his cards very close to the vest."
Retired Gen. Don Bolduc, who lost the Senate Republican primary in 2020, is the only candidate currently opposing Hassan.
Hassan said she’s focused on doing her job at the moment.
"I’m just working on making sure we implement the American Rescue Plan and making sure we meet the priorities and needs of the people in New Hampshire," she said.
Regardless of what Sununu ultimately decides to do, both parties view New Hampshire as a battleground next year. The NRSC and One Nation, a political nonprofit aligned with McConnell, included the state in early rounds of TV and radio spending this year. Liberal group End Citizens United currently is on-air in the state with ads focused on the Senate’s voting legislation that Hassan supports.
"Our folks are encouraged at least that [Sununu is] thinking seriously about it," said Senate Minority Whip John Thune, R-S.D. “We’re appreciative of the fact at least that he’s entertaining the outreach that’s been made to him.”
Former Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., who lost in 2016, also has been mentioned as a possible candidate. She has shown little interest in running to reclaim the seat.
If Sununu enters the race, however, Ayotte would consider running for governor, a Republican source told Politico.
Early polls from New Hampshire universities show Sununu with a slight edge in a hypothetical race.
"If he were to decide to run, that would instantly become a top-tier pickup opportunity for Republicans," said Steven Law, president of Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with McConnell.
The state’s congressional delegation has been all-Democrat since 2017.
Sununu supported then-President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign, though the governor criticized Trump after the Jan. 6 attack on at the Capitol.