New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu announced Tuesday that he will not run for Senate in 2022, delivering a blow to Republicans’ chances of regaining control of the chamber.
Sununu, during a news conference 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. Democrats control the 50-50 Senate with Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote.
“I guess you’ll have to let them know,” the governor said.
Sununu’s decision puts added pressure on Republicans, whose chances of taking back the Senate are contingent on defending open seats next year in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Florida, Ohio and Missouri while flipping at least one Democratic-held seat from a list that also includes Arizona, Georgia and Nevada.
Polls have shown Hassan could be vulnerable to a strong challenge. A recent survey from the University of New Hampshire found her in close hypothetical races against Sununu and Don Bolduc, who lost a 2020 Senate primary and already had launched a 2022 campaign.
Sununu, 47, has remained a relatively popular figure in New Hampshire while avoiding the snug embrace that many in the GOP have offered to former President Donald Trump. And — thanks to his three terms as governor and a father and brother who were elected to statewide office before him — Sununu’s name is recognizable to nearly every voter in the state.
But Sununu had struggled with his decision. In interviews with NBC News last summer, he expressed reservations about whether the executive power he has as governor was worth trading for one of 100 Senate seats in hyperpartisan Washington, D.C. He also wondered how the job would affect his family. Sununu and his wife have three school-aged children.
“The more I heard about the opportunities that would be there to lead — and there are opportunities, to be sure — and what the day-to-day entails, it’s so different,” Sununu said Tuesday, noting that he most appreciated advice from former Republican governors, including Scott, Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah and former President George W. Bush.
Republican Glenn Youngkin’s victory last week in Virginia’s race for governor buoyed GOP optimism that candidates who don’t run as champions of Trumpism can win on their own personalities and policy agenda. Like Youngkin, Sununu has kept a distance from Trump.
Sununu also signaled sharp disagreements with the ideological and personality-driven politics that Trump and his right-wing GOP supporters practice. Last month, for example, Sununu clashed with other Republicans in New Hampshire and voiced his frustration after GOP members of the state’s Executive Council blocked federal funding to assist with Covid-19 vaccinations. And although Sununu twice voted for Trump, he has been candid about his disagreements with the former president. Unlike other Republicans who audition for Trump’s endorsement by parroting false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him, Sununu quickly acknowledged President Joe Biden as the legitimate winner.
Trump had not weighed in publicly on Sununu’s prospective candidacy, but he raised eyebrows in September by issuing a statement that complimented Bolduc.
Sununu said Tuesday that he is not concerned about the future of his party.
“I’m an engineer. I believe in cycles,” he added. “We could be in a tough cycle. But look what’s happening. I mean, good Republicans won in Virginia. A lot of good new Republicans won in New Jersey, and this was an off year, right? Imagine the opportunity in a strong year. And it’s not just about the former president or any of that sort of thing. It’s about the candidates themselves and who they’re going to represent in their state.”
One reporter at the news conference, noting that if Sununu wins re-election next year he’d be a four-term governor, asked if he has ruled out running for president. New Hampshire traditionally holds the first presidential primary, making Sununu an intriguing prospect.
“I haven’t ruled out going to Washington — just not as senator right now,” Sununu said.
“I would go to Washington,” he added, “but it has to be in a position, in a management, in a form that fits where I can best serve.”