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Passing on Senate run, Sununu announces bid for fourth term in governor's office

Sununu gave a press conference at
Josh Rogers
Sununu said he planned to run for governor again, bucking expectations that he would seek a Senate seat in 2022.

Gov. Chris Sununu says he is running for a fourth term as New Hampshire's governor, spurning months of requests from national Republicans that he challenge incumbent Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan in 2022.

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"I'd rather push myself 120 miles an hour delivering wins for New Hampshire than to slow down, end up on Capitol Hill, debating partisan politics without results," Sununu said at a Tuesday morning press conference.

GOP leaders had looked to Sununu as the party's best chance to take control of the U.S. Senate from Democrats. But in announcing his decision to seek another term in the State House, Sununu said Republicans had other options in seeking to unseat Hassan.

"There's a lot of other really good candidates out there who could win," Sununu said.

Sununu has served three terms as governor after six years on the Executive Council. His current term has been dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic, in which he has presented himself as a capable, data-driven manager through a time of crisis. But at times, his claims that New Hampshire is leading the nation out of the pandemic haven’t been borne out by the data.

Throughout his time in the corner office, Sununu prioritized tax cuts and making New Hampshire a more attractive place for business. Lately, he’s positioned the state as a tourist destination and an attractive place for families and businesses to relocate, explicitly highlighted in a series of promotional videos.

He also signed one of the most expansive school choice programs of its kind.

While declining to jump in the Senate race Tuesday, Sununu continued to brand himself as a top manager, and said the state still needs his attention getting through pandemic and addressing severe shortcomings in its mental health system. If he wins election to a fourth term, Sununu would have two more years to shape New Hampshire's political and policy landscape: more judges to appoint, more commissioners to put in place, and more Republican policies to champion and sign into law.

"My responsibility is not to the gridlock and politics of Washington, it's to the citizens of New Hampshire," he said.

But Sununu hasn’t always had an easy time managing his own party in the State House. He recently clashed with Republican lawmakers over COVID mitigation policies, and with Republican executive councilors over federal funding for COVID vaccination efforts.

He’s also garnered criticism from Democrats for signing restrictive new abortion legislation (including an ultrasound requirement for anyone seeking an abortion at any time) as a part of the 2021 state budget while claiming to be pro-choice.

His family is among the most successful in New Hampshire political history. His father, John. H. Sununu, served as governor and later became White House chief of staff under President George H.W. Bush. His brother, John E. Sununu, is a former U.S. senator and congressman.

Sununu's decision to forego a race for Senate will have wider political ramifications. Several Republicans who had been seen as preparing campaigns to take Sununu's place in the governor's office will now have to reconsider their options. Republicans are also now left to recruit a strong candidate to challenge Hassan. Former general Don Bolduc has declared his candidacy to take on Hassan, though he has not attracted much support from national Republicans.

As for potential Democratic challengers for Sununu, Congressman Chris Pappas is one potential candidate. He’s facing a potentially tough reelection run next year due to Republican redistricting. Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington has also emerged as a prominent voice of the minority party in Concord. State senators Donna Soucy and Tom Sherman are also potential candidates. But ousting Sununu looks like a stiff challenge for any Democrat.

Hassan was asked about Sununu’s announcement during a previously scheduled event Tuesday touting the recently passed infrastructure package in Congress. She told reporters in Manchester that her focus remains “delivering results for the people of New Hampshire.”

“Our races in New Hampshire are always tough because we are an independent place,” Hassan said. “People expect the candidates to come out and talk to them about what’s important to them, what they’ve delivered for them. That’s what I will continue to do.”

Hassan said she had not talked with Sununu on Tuesday, and that she was at the dentist when he made his announcement.

But during the press conference, Sununu did not rule out running for president someday.

Josh has worked at NHPR since 2000.
Gabi leads NHPR's digital journalism efforts, working on news and editorial strategy, audience engagement, attempting to ferret out typos and much more.

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