New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu on Tuesday said he would not run against Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan in 2022, dealing a significant blow to Republicans who hoped the seat would be a top target in the critical midterm elections.
Sununu, who said he was running for a fourth term as governor, offered a wholesale criticism of the US Senate in his announcement, deriding the legislative body as slow and largely ineffective, contrasting that with the “expectations,” “accountability,” and “successes” demanded of governors.
“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. That’s why I am going to run for a fourth term,” Sununu said.
After listing all he has done in New Hampshire and what he hopes to accomplish, Sununu added, “There is just so much that we can do but a US senator does none of this. A governor must be accountable and deliver results. It’s what I’ve done, it’s how I can best serve New Hampshire and defend its values.”
National Republicans for months had hoped Sununu would take on Hassan, a first-term senator who was the current governor’s predecessor.
Sununu was seen as the top Republican recruit nationwide: He won reelection in 2020 by 32 percentage points in a state where President Joe Biden defeated former President Donald Trump by 7 points. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, and National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman Sen. Rick Scott, R-Florida, have both publicly said they hoped Sununu would run.
But his decision to seek a fourth term delivered a blow to both Senate Republicans.
Sununu told reporters that he did not tell McConnell or Scott that he was passing on a Senate bid.
“I guess you will have to let them know. I haven’t talked to them,” he said, adding that he was appreciative of their work to get him to run but that his decision “is about New Hampshire, not about Washington.”
“Unbelievable,” McConnell political adviser Josh Holmes tweeted shortly after Sununu’s announcement.
Republicans grew hopeful after their recent win in the Virginia gubernatorial race and a stunning near-miss in New Jersey’s gubernatorial contest that more top recruits like Sununu would jump into key races as they see the national political environment shifting in the GOP’s favor.
But Sununu’s decision clearly came down to whether he wanted to be one of 100 legislators or the leader of his state. Sununu delivered his decision with a stinging rebuke of the Senate.
“The more I heard about the opportunities that would be there to lead, and there are opportunities to be sure, what the day to day entails, it is so different, it doesn’t fit, not just my style, but it clearly doesn’t fit the needs of the citizens,” Sununu said, revealing that numerous senators called him to give him advice, along with former President George W. Bush.
He added: “If we are just sitting around having meeting after meeting, waiting for votes to maybe happen. Man, I like moving, I like getting stuff done. … I think I would be like a lion in a cage waiting to get something and affect real change. It just wasn’t for me.”
Sununu, 47, is the son of one former New Hampshire governor and White House chief of staff, John H. Sununu, and the brother of a former senator, John E. Sununu.
He has been elected to three consecutive two-year terms as governor in 2016, 2018 and 2020. In recent months, Sununu has been coy about whether he would seek a fourth term as governor or would run for the Senate instead.
Hassan won by 1,017 votes in 2016, and protecting her seat is critical to Democrats’ hopes of maintaining the majority in the Senate, which is currently split 50-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote.
An October poll by the University of New Hampshire showed a potentially close race, with Sununu narrowly ahead of Hassan, 45% to 42%.
Democrats were clearly concerned about a Hassan-Sununu race. The party previewed its lines of attack against Sununu ahead of his announcement, arguing he has never faced an opponent as well-funded and widely known as Hassan.
Sununu told reporters that he is hopeful Republicans will be able to defeat Hassan, but even the party’s top operatives admit that their chances for success took a hit with Sununu’s decision.
In September, Trump released a statement praising another Republican candidate in the Senate race, retired Gen. Don Bolduc, after Bolduc’s interview on Fox News criticizing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley.
“Congratulations to General Don Bolduc on his incredible presentation regarding Mark Milley, the Taliban and China’s all-time favorite General!” Trump said.