Yes, this does set back the GOP’s hopes of a Senate takeover next year. But after hearing Chris Sununu’s explanation for his decision to run for a fourth term as governor instead, who can fault his reasoning?
Sununu, in a news conference at the Statehouse in Concord, said he instead would seek a fourth two-year term as governor.
“My responsibility is not to the gridlock and politics of Washington, it is to the citizens of New Hampshire,” Sununu said. “I’d rather push myself 120 miles an hour delivering wins for New Hampshire than just slow down and end up on Capitol Hill debating partisan politics without results. That’s why I’m going to run for a fourth term. And I’d be honored if the people in New Hampshire would elect me again as their governor. We have a lot more to do to protect the interests of New Hampshire citizens. And it’s just clear that I can be most effective doing that.”
GOP leaders from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to Sen. Rick Scott, chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, had been courting Sununu to challenge incumbent Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan, seeing him as their best prospect to flip a seat.
Sununu even turned down an entreaty from a former GOP president to move to DC. No, the other former Republican president:
Sununu says he’s spoken with many GOP senators about a possible run — and George W. Bush as well. Says the more he heard about being a senator, the less he wanted to do it
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) November 9, 2021
Oof. Taking out Maggie Hassan was a key part of the GOP’s strategy for regaining control of the Senate, and Sununu gave them their best shot at winning the New Hampshire seat. There hasn’t been a ton of polling yet in the state, but all of it has had Sununu up, and in most cases outside the margin of error — no mean feat in a state as evenly divided as New Hampshire, either.
So now what? The political winds favor the GOP at the moment, but they have to have a competitive challenger in order to cash in on that advantage. Ben Shapiro sees Kelly Ayotte — who barely lost to Hassan in 2016 — as the obvious choice:
Even in early polling that showed Hassan running ahead of Ayotte (polling from February), Ayotte was running WAY ahead of Hassan (+17) among independents. https://t.co/OTkCvxHXQc
— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) November 9, 2021
That poll’s most recent iteration showed Ayotte in a virtual tie with Hassan … again. Hassan only edged Ayotte 44/43, a low number indeed for an incumbent and a five-point drop since July — perhaps a clear indication of Joe Biden’s drag on the ticket. The internals look even better for Ayotte:
Ayotte also holds more of her own party (92%) than Hassan (88%), and edges Hassan among independents (34/32). She also holds the Trump vote more strongly than Hassan holds the Biden vote (87/79), and that might get even worse for Hassan as Biden’s approval numbers circle the drain. Combine that with Sununu putting an end to speculation about his choice, those numbers might firm up for Ayotte.
Republicans better hope Ayotte will answer the call. If they can’t recruit Ayotte for a rematch — and recall that she only lost to Hassan by a thousand votes or so — then Hassan might escape 2022 after all.