Senate Republicans to soon find out if they've landed a top 2022 recruit

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National Republicans have been anticipating for months a decision from GOP Gov. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire on whether he’ll run for the Senate next year. 

They won’t have to wait my longer.

Sununu, a popular governor in a key battleground state who was first elected in 2016, said Friday in interviews on two separate morning talk radio programs in the Granite State that he’ll have an announcement on his political future “in the next few weeks.”

The governor is deciding whether to run for the Senate by launching a GOP challenge against Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan, run for reelection to a fourth two-year term steering the Granite State, or not run for anything in 2022 and return to the private sector.

With the GOP needing a net gain of just one seat in the 2022 midterms to regain the majority it lost in last cycle’s contests, the looming Senate battle in New Hampshire could ultimately decide whether the Democrats or the Republicans control the chamber come 2023.

Gov. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire holds a coronavirus pandemic briefing 

National Republicans view Hassan, a first-term senator and Sununu’s predecessor as New Hampshire governor, as very vulnerable heading into next year’s midterms. And they see Sununu, whose poll numbers are flagging but still remain very high among Republicans and in positive territory among independents, and who’s carefully navigated his relationship with former President Trump the past six years, as their key to flipping a crucial blue seat red.

A D.C.-based GOP strategist told Fox News that landing Sununu as a Senate candidate would be “a game changer. It just completely changes the dynamics of the map.”

Sununu told host Chris Ryan on “New Hampshire Today” that “I have been thinking a lot more about it.” And he said an announcement on his decision would come “I think in the next few weeks.”

Sununu repeated the timetable in an interview with host Jack Heath on “Good Morning NH,” saying “my hope is to have a decision more public in the next few weeks.”

And in both interviews he said he’s “definitely been leaning one way to be sure.” 

The governor noted “my family is very much on board with whatever I want to do. They’re very supportive.” 

But he added that “I still have a few more people I want to talk to and get some other folks’ advice.” He said among those from whom he’s still seeking advice are his father, former three-term Gov. John H. Sununu (who also served as chief of staff in President George H.W. Bush’s administration) and one of his older brothers, John E. Sununu, a former congressman who served one term in the U.S. Senate.

The lobbying effort by national Republicans this year has included phone calls from Senate GOP Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and other prominent Republicans. Trump, who nine months removed from the White House remains very popular with Republicans as he continues to play a kingmaker’s role in GOP politics and repeatedly flirts with another presidential run in 2024, said earlier this year that he’d “like to see” Sununu challenge Hassan.

“It’s critical that Republicans have a strong candidate who could defeat Hassan and the governor would certainly fit that bill,” veteran Republican consultant Brian Walsh told Fox News. 

“This seat is ripe for a Republican takeover with the right candidate,” Walsh, who served as a top NRCC official during the 2010 and 2012 cycles, predicted. “The governor has a demonstrated record of winning state wide.”

A University of New Hampshire survey conducted Oct. 14-18 and released this week indicated Sununu at 45% and Hassan at 42% among likely 2022 general election voters in the Granite State. It’s the latest survey this year to indicate Sununu holding a very slight edge over Hassan in a potential showdown next year.

Republicans have been spotlighting another number in the poll, which indicates Hassan with a 33% favorable and 51% unfavorable rating. And Democrats are highlighting that Sununu’s poll numbers, which skyrocketed during the coronavirus pandemic, are coming back to earth. He stands at 41%-36% favorable/unfavorable in the new poll, and his approval rating as governor – while still positive – is down to 54%. Sununu’s disapproval up to 40%, the highest during his tenure as governor.

In his radio interviews, Sununu sounded like he was already running against Hassan, saying, “I think she has the worst favorability numbers of any incumbent senator in the country.”

And he charged that “Maggie Hassan should actually wake up and realize you’ve gotta do your job. You gotta deliver results for people to support you in the position.”

While Sununu’s nearing a decision, there is already a Republican candidate in the 2022 race. 

Retired Gen. Don Bolduc, who unsuccessfully bid for the Senate GOP nomination in 2020, has been running all year. The new UNH poll suggests Bolduc trails Hassan by just five points in a hypothetical general election match up, his best performance against the Democratic incumbent to date.

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