Senate Republicans call NH Gov. Sununu's decision 'huge disappointment' but say it can be 'overcome'

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After losing their top recruit as they try to win back the Senate in the 2022 midterms, Republican leaders were not pleased with the decision by GOP Gov. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire to forgo a Senate campaign.

“It’s a huge disappointment,” a Republican strategist focused on Senate races told Fox News. “He (Sununu) decided not to help turn the country around and now we have to find someone who’s willing to try.”

But the strategist, who asked to remain anonymous to speak more freely, emphasized that even with Sununu declining to run against first-term Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan, who the GOP sees as vulnerable in next year’s elections, the party can still “succeed in New Hampshire with the right candidate.”

Republicans need a net gain of just one seat to regain the Senate majority they lost when they were swept in January’s twin runoff elections in Georgia. And New Hampshire, along with Arizona, Georgia and Nevada are top GOP targets to flip from blue to red in next year’s midterms.

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu announces he will run for reelection and not seek a seat in the U.S. Senate Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021, in Concord, New Hampshire. (Photo: Paul Steinhauser/Fox News Digital)
(Fox News Digital)

Sununu on Tuesday ended months of speculation and brought to an end a full-court press by longtime Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell, National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) chair Rick Scott and other party leaders to recruit the popular governor who overwhelming won reelection last year to a third two-year term steering New Hampshire, a key battleground state.

And as he made his surprise announcement, the governor took a sledgehammer to the Senate. 

“My responsibility is not to the gridlock and politics of Washington, it’s to the citizens of New Hampshire. And I’d rather push myself 120 miles per hour delivering wins for New Hampshire than to slow down and end up on Capitol Hill debating partisan politics without results,” Sununu said at a news conference at the governor’s mansion in Concord, New Hampshire’s capital city.

“When you look at what their (senators) job is and what a governor’s job is … it’s not even close. I can’t tell you how many senators told me, ‘You’re just going to have to wait around a couple of years to get anything done.’ Can you imagine me sitting around a couple of years,” Sununu emphasized. “They debate and talk and nothing gets done. … That’s not the world I live in.”

And he charged that in the Senate ,”frankly, too often doing nothing is considered a win.”

Sununu also didn’t give McConnell Scott, or anyone else in the nation’s capital a heads-up on his decision.

Asked by Fox News if he had alerted party leaders in D.C. in advance of Tuesday morning’s announcement and what their reaction was, Sununu said, “I guess you’ll have to let them know. …I haven’t talked to them.” 

“I appreciate everything they’ve said and the confidence they have in me, but this is about New Hampshire, not Washington. So I’m going to talk to the folks that I represent first.”

The Washington-based GOP strategist argued that “it’s not unusual for a politician to lead people on but that doesn’t make it any less disappointing when you learn that you’ve been had.”

Sununu clearly didn’t close the door to a potential White House run in 2024 or beyond, telling reporters, “I haven’t ruled out going to Washington, just not as a senator right now.”

But the strategist warned, “I’m sure that he’s got his reasons for deciding to run for governor again, but it’s not without a cost to his brand among Republicans around the country.”

Longtime New Hampshire-based national Republican consultant David Carney discounted such concerns, telling Fox News that if Sununu “has national ambitions, none of them will be based on DC. They’ll be based on his experience and records and ideas in New Hampshire and other states. I don’t know of any governor that’s successfully run for presidential office that based his efforts on Washington.”

And Carney, a veteran of numerous presidential campaigns and who advised then-Texas Gov. Rick Perry and is a chief strategist for current Lone Star State Gov. Greg Abbott, suggested that “the retrospection in D.C. needs to be on how they go and try to recruit governors.”

He said “it’s very difficult to convince governors… who solve problems and do things” to run for the Senate. “There’s no appeal.”

In the hours after Sununu’s announcement, former GOP Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who was defeated by Hassan by a razor-thin margin in her 2016 reelection defeat, ruled out a 2022 run for her old job. 

So did former GOP Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts, who moved to New Hampshire and came close to defeating Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen in 2014, and who served as ambassador to New Zealand during the Trump administration.

Sununu, who said he’s already talking to a couple of other Republicans about running for the Senate, argued that “it’s not just Chris Sununu that can win that race… there’s a lot of other really good candidates out there that could win that seat.”

The GOP strategist closely involved in Senate races acknowledged that “it’s a different sort of a challenge with a candidate who doesn’t have statewide recognized ID,” but added “it’s not an impossible task” amid an “environment for the Democrats that’s as bad as it’s ever been.”

Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan makes a stop in the northern New Hampshire city of Berlin on April 7, 2021. The former governor and first-term senator is running for reelection in 2022.
(Maggie Hassan reelection campaign)

But beating Hassan, a former two-term governor with a history of winning tough elections during a rough climate for her party, and who’s already building a formidable war chest, won’t be easy.

There’s already one declared Republican candidate in the 2022 race for Senate in New Hampshire. Retired Gen. Don Bolduc, who unsuccessfully ran for the 2020 GOP Senate nomination, launched his campaign nearly a year ago. 

And in the hours after Sununu’s announcement, New Hampshire was fluttering with speculation. GOP sources in the state tell Fox News that currently in the camp of “not ruling it out” and “fielding calls of support” are 2020 GOP Senate nominee Bryant “Corky” Messner, as well as state Senate President Chuck Morse and state education department Commissioner Frank Edelblut – both of whom had be leaning toward a gubernatorial run if Sununu had launched a Senate campaign.

Also on the list of possible contenders are former Rep. Frank Guinta, former Senate and gubernatorial candidate Ovide Lamontagne, 2010 Senate candidate Bill Binnie and 2020 GOP congressional nominee and 2022 congressional candidate Matt Mowers.

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