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Sununu Touts Business Wins, Downplays State House Losses In Pivot To Campaign Mode

Jason Moon for NHPR

With lawmakers gone from Concord, the 2018 political season is now officially on, and one New Hampshire politician making a quick shift to campaign mode is Gov. Chris Sununu. 

New Hampshire’s first Republican governor in more than a decade is hitting the trail with a mixed record at the Statehouse but plenty of enthusiasm.

To hear Sununu these days is to hear a man bent on pitching his time in office as one of serial accomplishment.

“We have done things over the past eighteen months that people have never seen before. And that we have the fastest growing economy, and that we have more disposable income and that we are taking care of our seniors and we are doing things for veterans that have never been done before and we are opening opportunity for kids, and we are driving more businesses here. I could go on all day.”

That was Sununu last week, speaking at a luncheon in Portsmouth hosted by the Seacoast Republican Women.

The Governor pushed to get the GOP-controlled legislature to pass a right-to-work bill and failed; his school voucher plan fell flat; so did his high-profile backing of a victims' rights constitutional amendment.

For any GOP governor, this would be a friendly room. And for Sununu it seemed particularly chummy, with plenty of hugs, and easy small talk. 

Marga Coulp owns a Portsmouth beauty salon and describes herself as a big Sununu supporter.

“He’s willing to listen to people. He’s just everywhere, answering every question. He answers his phone, he’s just a really positive guy,” she says.

But even so, Coulp says it’s also important to take the long view.

“It’s a work in progress and it was that way when the Democrats were involved. We won’t get everything, but it’s a work in progress. “

And core Republican voters haven’t gotten everything with Sununu.

The governor pushed to get the GOP-controlled legislature to pass a right-to-work bill and failed; his school voucher plan fell flat; so did his high-profile backing of a victims’ rights constitutional amendment.

And then there are also things Sununu has done, like support a bill adding gender identity to the state’s anti-discrimination laws. That’s frustrated conservatives like Steve Goddu, Salem GOP secretary, but he says he’s trying to keep it in perspective.

"I’m not too happy about the transgender bill, but all in all that’s not that major compared to the other things he has achieved. It’s about the economy," Goddu said.

Sununu's zest for selling New Hampshire as a place to do business is getting him noticed.

That also appears to be the governor’s view. He stresses the state’s fiscal footing wherever he goes, and this can slide into hyperbole at a GOP event like the luncheon in Portsmouth.

“We have more money than we know what to do with because we did it right," Sununu said, "and we are growing our economy sustainably and for the long term.”

His zest for selling New Hampshire as a place to do business is getting him noticed.

“It certainly didn’t hurt that we have the most energetic governor that I have ever met.”

That’s what inventor Dean Kamen said in praise of Sununu this week at the signing ceremony for a law to waive taxes for companies making synthetic organs. That law had bipartisan backing, and the accomplishment is one Sununu is likely to stree as he campaigns.

After the signing, Sununu gladhanded with lawmakers of both parties. He also was also quick to press the flesh with Martine Rothblatt, CEO of one of the organ manufacturers planning to set up shop here.

"That’s my cell number, so if you need something, don’t hesitate, it goes right to my pocket," Sununu told Rothblatt.

Sharing a cell phone number is fairly standard for New Hampshire governors. What’s also standard is for non-controversial governors here to win a second term without much struggle.

But this year is shaping up, nationally, as politically volatile, and that could spill into New Hampshire.

Sununu say he doubts the possibility, but former congressman and now GOP-state Sen. Jeb Bradley, who was swept in and out of Washington during wave elections, says history has taught him to respect the power of forces no politician can control locally.

“Every election, it’s never easy," Bradley said. "And there are things that happen in Washington that flavor it and that’s certainly going to be the case this fall. It’s never easy.”

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