While New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu hasn’t yet announced if he’ll depart from his job as leader of this competitive state, reporter Paul Steinhauser takes a look at potential contenders who could campaign to succeed their fellow Republican. Before we dive in, though, we’ll note that, while Sununu sounds unlikely to seek what would be a historic fifth two-year term, he could still run for re-election in 2024 even if his White House flirtations go bust and render all of this chatter moot.
Perhaps the most familiar name in Steinhauser’s story belongs to former Sen. Kelly Ayotte, whom he reports “has been talking with people about running for governor.” Ayotte was last on the ballot in 2016 when she lost re-election to then-Gov. Maggie Hassan in a 48.0-47.8 squeaker, a contrast that took place as Sununu was reclaiming the governor’s office for the GOP after 12 years of Democratic control. The former senator was talked about as a potential candidate for governor in both 2019 and 2021 in the event that Sununu ran for the Senate, but the incumbent opted to stay put.
State education commissioner Frank Edelblut, meanwhile, recently confirmed he’s interested in running to replace his boss and former rival. Edelblut, who is a former member of the 400-member state House, campaigned for governor in 2016 and used his personal fortune to outspend both Sununu and Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas in the primary. Sununu and Gatsas focused their attacks on one another near the end of the contest while ignoring their wealthy foe, and this was almost enough for Edelblut to pull off an upset.
Sununu, though, ended up fending off Edelblut 31-30―a margin of just over 1,000 votes―while Gatsas ran behind with 21%. The new governor soon picked Edelblut to run the state Department of Education even though he’d home-schooled his children rather than send them to public schools.
The commissioner last year set off protests when he published an opinion piece decrying that “activist educators” were teaching elementary schoolers that “there are totally more than two genders!” He also said parents “should not be concerned, as occurred in another New Hampshire classroom, that the introduction to art will begin with a lesson in pronouns and links to Black Lives Matters for kids and LGBTQ+ for kids.” Edelblut, though, did not heed calls for his resignation and continues to hold this post.
Another Republican Steinhauser reports is “preparing for a potential gubernatorial campaign” is former state Senate President Chuck Morse, who stepped up to challenge Hassan last year after Sununu dispirited Senate Republicans by passing on the race. But Morse, who was characterized as someone who “is not flashy, and does not have charisma” by a supporter, struggled to get past retired Army Brig. Gen. Donald Bolduc, a Big Lie spreader who didn’t struggle to stand out in the primary.
Bolduc, among other things, called the governor a "Chinese communist sympathizer" with a family business that "supports terrorism,” so it was anything but a surprise that Sununu sided with Morse in the primary. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s allies also spent a hefty $4.6 million on an ad campaign to promote Morse and attack Bolduc as a surefire loser with "crazy ideas." Democrats, though, also launched an expensive ad campaign of their own tying Morse to lobbyists, a move aimed at weakening him for the general election if they couldn’t keep him from the GOP nomination.
But Democrats got exactly what they wanted in the primary: Bolduc edged out Morse 37-36 two months before losing to Hassan in a 54-44 drubbing. Morse at least gets one claim to fame though: In January 2017, he technically became the Granite State’s first GOP chief executive in 12 years when Hassan resigned to join the Senate two days before her gubernatorial term ended. Sununu's began, and Morse even got a security detail during that brief stint.
Former Hillsborough County Treasurer Robert Burns, who also lost his last campaign, says he’s considering both a bid for governor or a rematch against Democratic Rep. Annie Kuster in the 2nd Congressional District. Last cycle, Democrats aired ads in the GOP primary designed to help Burns defeat Keene Mayor George Hansel, a self-described “pro-choice” candidate backed by Sununu, and this was another race where that investment very much paid off. Burns won the nod 33-30, only to end up on the receiving end of a 56-44 drubbing by Kuster.
So which Democrats could run to end the GOP’s eight-year control of the governorship? Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig didn’t rule the idea out last month when she announced she wouldn’t seek re-election this year as head of New Hampshire’s largest city, and unnamed sources soon told the Concord Monitor she’s interested in running for the top job. Steinhauser also mentions Cinde Warmington, who is the only Democrat on New Hampshire’s unique and powerful five-member Executive Council, as a possibility.