New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu not running for Senate

Ayotte, Brown also signal they won't challenge Democrat Maggie Hassan

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu is seeking a fourth term as governor rather than run for Senate.  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu is seeking a fourth term as governor rather than run for Senate. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted November 9, 2021 at 10:13am, Updated at 3:10pm

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu said Tuesday he will not run for Senate, depriving Republicans of a top recruit against Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan.

Sununu plans to seek a fourth term as governor of the Granite State instead, saying that his “responsibility is not to the gridlock and politics of Washington” but to the people of New Hampshire.

“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 news conference Tuesday.  

“As governor, the job really demands a 24/7 accountability,” he said. “The people of our state deserve nothing less, and it’s where you can be the most impactful. Sometimes there could be a dozen key decisions in a day as a governor that have to be made and all can have an incredibly direct and positive impact on individuals’ lives. Not so much so in the Senate. It’s a much slower pace and, frankly, too often doing nothing is considered a win.” 

While Republicans have been confident they can recruit a formidable candidate to take on Hassan, Sununu’s decision is a blow to their bid to take back the Senate majority. 

National GOP leaders, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Rick Scott, encouraged Sununu to challenge Hassan, whom he succeeded as governor in 2017.

Republicans also viewed former GOP Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who lost her bid for reelection to Hassan in 2016, as a potential contender. But she put out a statement Tuesday indicating she and her husband, Joe Daley, would “focus on our family, professional careers, and electing Republicans here at home.” 

Former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, a Republican who now resides in the Granite State, also said Tuesday he was focused on helping his wife, Gail Huff Brown, run for Congress. She is one of several Republicans who is seeking the GOP nomination in the state’s 1st District.

The campaign committee for Senate Democrats called Sununu’s decision “a devastating recruitment failure for national Republicans” in a statement from Amanda Sherman-Baity. 

Senate Republican operatives noted that Hassan, even without Sununu in the race, remained vulnerable. “Polls this year have consistently shown her job approval rating underwater,” said Jack Pandol, communications director for the GOP super PAC Senate Leadership Fund. 

President Joe Biden carried New Hampshire by 7 points in 2020 after Hillary Clinton had won the state by less than half a point four years earlier. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates New Hampshire as one of eight Senate battlegrounds.

One GOP candidate in the race, retired Army Brig. Gen. Don Bolduc, has lagged far behind Hassan in fundraising. Hassan raised $14.3 million through Sept. 30 and had $6.5 million in her campaign account. In contrast, Bolduc raised $131,000 and had $58,000 in the bank at the end of September.

Former President Donald Trump had encouraged Sununu to run, but he has also praised Bolduc. Bolduc told the New Hampshire Today radio show last month that Trump phoned him after seeing him on Fox News. Bolduc said they did not discuss a potential endorsement in the Senate race.

“He didn’t bring it up. I did not bring it up. But he opened lines of communication, gave me his cell number,” Bolduc said.

Sununu teased late last month that a decision on the Senate race would be coming soon, but he offered clues that he was less than enthusiastic about potentially joining the chamber. 

“Look, I’m an executive. I’m a manager. I like to design systems and create solutions. Senate and Congress don’t really do that, right?” Sununu told MSNBC. “They do two things. They vote up and down a policy. They vote up and down funding. And then they go on to the next thing. And 80 percent of them are really tied up into more fighting with each other than actually getting stuff done. I like to get stuff done. So, I have got to make sure that my skill set fits Washington and, frankly, Washington could handle me.”

Sununu, who was recently hospitalized for a bleeding ulcer, comes from a prominent political family. His father, John H. Sununu, is a former governor who also served as President George H.W. Bush’s chief of staff. And his brother John E. Sununu served in the House and Senate. Republican strategists had believed Chris Sununu’s entry into the race would have made Hassan the most vulnerable Senate Democrat, considering the governor’s winning record statewide and Biden’s low job approval rating. Hassan still ranks among the most vulnerable Senate incumbents for 2022, coming in at No. 3 on CQ Roll Call’s latest list. 

Kate Ackley contributed to this report.