Chris Sununu rejects "debate and talk" of Senate in favor of reelection bid for governor

FILE: Chris Sununu, governor of New Hampshire, gestures as he speaks during the Republican Jewish Coalition Bridget Bennett/Bloomberg via Getty Images

New Hampshire Republican Governor Chris Sununu disappointed Senate Republicans Tuesday with his announcement that he would seek a fourth term as governor, rather than challenging first-term Democrat Maggie Hassan for her Senate seat.

His decision, he said, was driven largely by the inaction and gridlock in Washington. 

"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. "That's why I'm going to run for a fourth term."

The executive role of governor, he suggested, is far more appealing.

"There's just so much more that we can do," Sununu said after listing some of the accomplishments he's most proud of. "But a U.S. 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."

Republicans need to flip just one seat, if they can defend their current seats, in order to take back control of the U.S. Senate, and they saw in Sununu, a popular political figure in New Hampshire, one of their strongest chances to take the majority.

Sununu was re-elected to a third gubernatorial term in 2020, defeating his opponent by 32 points in a state that President Biden carried by 7 points. Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen also won in 2020 by 15 points. 

Sununu said he hadn't told top Senate Republicans about his decision before he announced it publicly. He said that during his conversations with senators, he came to realize that he doesn't have the desire to go to Washington at this time. 

"I can't tell you how many senators told me, 'we're going to have to wait around for a couple of years to actually get anything done,'" Sununu said. "Can you imagine me sitting around for a couple of years?"

Sununu said his experience dealing with the COVID pandemic forced him to make many tough decisions every day that "could really impact people's lives."

"You don't get to do any of that in the Senate," Sununu said. "You debate and talk. Nothing gets done. And as I said, sometimes that's considered a win, doing nothing. That's not the world I live in."

Before Sununu's announcement, Cook Political Report rated the race lean Democrat. Hassan raised $2.8 million in the third quarter and has about $6.5 million cash on hand. 

Sununu's decision to run for governor could open the door for other Republicans to enter the race. Retired Brigadier General Don Bolduc is running for the GOP nomination, but raised only $60,000. 

"We have some great potential candidates that have privately expressed their interest in running if I chose not to," Sununu said. "This idea that I'm the 51st vote in the U.S. Senate that would get rid of Chuck Schumer, I probably think the Republicans stand to win 53, 54 seats in the U.S. Senate, including New Hampshire. And it's not just Chris Sununu that could win that race."

Former Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte, who lost to Hassan in 2016, will also not be among the candidates running for Senate in 2022, a source told CBS News. Ayotte issued a statement praising Sununu's tenure as governor.

"Governor Sununu has done a tremendous job in office and I am so thankful he will continue his service to our state and continue to fight for all Granite Staters," Ayotte said. "As for Joe and I, we will continue to focus on our family, professional careers, and electing Republicans here at home."

A recent St. Anselm College poll found 44% of New Hampshire registered voters approve of the job she is doing, while 50% disapprove. 

"Senator Hassan won her last race by 1,017 votes, and we know that no matter who emerges as the Republican nominee this is going to be a hard-fought race," Hassan campaign manager Aaron Jacobs said in a statement. " The Senator has shown that she can work across the aisle to get results for Granite Staters — and that is why she has a record of winning tough races. Our campaign is ready for the challenge ahead."

National Senate Republicans said they'll press forward and believe they have a strong chance to defeat Hassan next year. 

"Maggie Hassan is the least popular and most vulnerable incumbent in the U.S. Senate," National Republican Senatorial Committee communications director Chris Hartline said in a statement. "We have lots of great candidates in New Hampshire and we look forward to one of them beating Hassan next November."


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