New Hampshire Senate: Sununu Will Not Run

by Jacob Rubashkin November 9, 2021 · 10:47 AM EST

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu’s decision not to run for the U.S. Senate is big news, but the Granite State is still a winnable race for Republicans looking to reclaim the majority next year. 

The Tuesday announcement from Sununu, a popular three-term governor, that he will seek re-election to a fourth term, is a temporary setback to GOP plans to defeat Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan. 

Sununu had been national Republicans’ number one recruiting target this cycle, and was the subject of a full court press from GOP leaders such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Rick Scott, and even former President Donald Trump, who encouraged him to run for Senate over the summer. He didn’t give GOP leadership a heads up before his announcement, but had told at least one Republican senator several weeks ago that he didn’t plan to take on Hassan.

In a cycle where the national party has struggled to recruit top tier challengers in states such as Georgia, Arizona, and Pennsylvania, the prospect of a run by Sununu, who just won a landslide victory last fall even as Joe Biden carried the state by 8 points, was a bright spot for Republicans. Had he entered the fray, he would have started out as a slight favorite who would have won the election had it been held today (the actual election, of course, is not for another year).

Though Sununu’s decision deprives Republicans of their best possible candidate, it doesn’t mean that New Hampshire won’t be a Senate battleground next year. Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan’s approval rating is unimpressive, and Biden’s slumping numbers proved to be a drag on Democratic candidates up and down the ballot last Tuesday night, when Republicans scored big victories in Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, and nearly in New Jersey. 

Midterms are generally a referendum on the party in power, and right now voters are clearly displeased with the Democrats who run Washington. In a state as evenly divided as New Hampshire, which Biden won by 8 points last year but which voted for Hillary Clinton over Trump by 0.3 percent in 2016, and where Hassan won her first Senate election by just 1,017 votes, Hassan is still vulnerable even though she won’t face Sununu.

Former Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who served one term from 2010 to 2016 before being defeated by Hassan, is now likely to run, according to GOP sources. She would be a strong candidate for Republicans. (After publication, WMUR's John DiStaso reported that Ayotte is not planning to run for any office in 2022.)*

Education commissioner Frank Edelblut, who lost to Sununu in the GOP primary for governor in 2016 by less than 1,000 votes but was then hired into his administration, may take a look at the race as well.

And then there’s Don Bolduc, the retired Army brigadier general who placed second in the 2020 GOP Senate primary and is still the only major announced GOP candidate in the 2022 field. Beyond having an impressive resume as a special forces commander, Bolduc has something even more important in a Republican primary: a good relationship with Trump, who has praised him in statements. Bolduc has gone all in on Trump’s attempts to delegitimize the 2020 presidential election results,  and is openly angling for a Trump endorsement.

Should Trump grace Bolduc with his support, that could complicate the path for Ayotte or other more potential candidates more palatable to national Republicans. Ayotte’s 2016 loss was partially pinned on her criticism of Trump after the release of the Access Hollywood tape. The senator said she wouldn’t vote for Trump or Hillary Clinton in the 2016 race. 

But if the national environment continues to worsen for Democrats, even a lower-tier candidate could give Hassan a tough race. So while Democrats are likely breathing a sigh of relief knowing they won’t face Sununu, they can’t rest on their laurels either. 

We continue to have New Hampshire rated as a Battleground and will shift to our traditional rating categories in January.


*Updated 12:30pm, 11/9/21 with John DiStaso tweet