The Sununu Effect

Gov. Chris Sununu running for president would create more questions for the Granite State than answers
Politics May Final

Illustration by Peter Noonan

The year hasn’t even reached the halfway mark, but it is safe to say that New Hampshire politics in 2023 is defined by one question: Will Chris Sununu actually run for president?

At the time of writing, it is still very much an open question. He has been on a months-long media tour, traveling around the country hoping to raise his national profile and meet potential donors if there was a campaign. 

If he doesn’t run for president, Sununu said he hasn’t ruled out going to Washington anyway, maybe serving in the cabinet if a Republican is elected. He has felt this way for a long time, going back to his announcement that he would not run for the U.S. Senate last year.

But all of the talk about what Sununu is interested in doing makes it pretty obvious what he is not interested in doing: running for reelection as governor. 

This is a big deal. It is also deeply under-appreciated by the local political chattering class as they focus on what a presidential run might, first off, look like for Sununu, and, secondly, mean for the future of the New Hampshire primary. 

However, Sununu not seeking a fifth term shakes up New Hampshire politics for the first time in seven years. Besides Sununu holding the governor’s office since 2016, all other major offices — those in the U.S. House and Senate — have been held by Democrats during the same period. Should Sununu go, this all changes.

While Sununu has confounded Democrats who have largely been unable to effectively attack him, it’s not only the Democrats who will be glad to see him not run again. 

There are Libertarian-minded Republicans who have long seen him as the person in the way of their agenda, particularly as they control the New Hampshire House. Then there are the more establishment-minded Republicans who are friends with Sununu and have ambitions of the corner office themselves. Now, they’ll have a chance to run.

Indeed, there might be no one in New Hampshire who more wants a chance of running for governor again than Sununu’s education commissioner Frank Edelblut. Edelblut, after only narrowly losing the 2016 Republican nomination for governor to Sununu, has been waiting in the wings ever since. 

It’s with the Democrats, however, where you can see how the major domino effect of Sununu’s departure from Concord would have a lot of impact.

U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas might make his move to run for governor with Sununu out of the way. It would make logical sense for Pappas. He currently occupies one of the nation’s most competitive swing seats — as a Democrat holding a district that Republican Donald Trump had won. But if he runs statewide, he gets the benefit of more Democratic voters in the state’s other congressional district who could vote for him. And then, of course, there is the simple power and lifestyle choice of being governor, versus one of 435 U.S. House members that have to constantly commute to Washington again and again.

But if Pappas runs for governor, then his House seat opens up — something that has only happened twice in the past 20 years in the state. All kinds of people could run for that role, including mayors and state senators and state representatives, that might open up their current positions to other newcomers. 

In other words, while there is a lot of discussion about Sununu’s national ambitions — and rightly so — there might be a growing level of chatter about the ambitions of so many others closer to home.

Categories: Politics