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Why Chris Sununu turning down Senate Republicans matters

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu disappointed the Senate Republicans who tried to recruit him, and it's important to understand why.


Senate Republicans gave New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu the hard sell. Party leaders saw the GOP governor as the lynchpin of the party's 2022 recruiting strategy: If Sununu launched a Senate campaign, he'd likely win, which in turn would put Republicans in a strong position to take back the majority in the chamber.

With this in mind, top GOP senators practically begged the Granite State governor to take on Democratic incumbent Sen. Maggie Hassan next year, and they thought their efforts were working. Sen. Rick Scott, the chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, predicted over the summer, in reference to a prospective Sununu candidacy, "I think he's going to do it."

He's not going to do it: Sununu announced yesterday that he's running for re-election in New Hampshire, not for the U.S. Senate. Despite the extensive recruiting efforts, the governor didn't bother giving Republican leaders on Capitol Hill a heads-up before sharing his 2022 plans.

But just as notable was the governor's rationale. NBC News reported:

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."

Reflecting on the possibility of serving in the Senate, the Republican, whose brother served in the chamber, added, "I'd be like a lion in a cage."

Sununu went on to say that the more he heard from senators about "what the day-to-day entails," the more he came to believe Senate service "clearly doesn't fit the needs of citizens."

It's quite the paradox: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell wants to recruit the best possible candidates to run for Senate seats, but he's also created a chamber that the best possible candidates don't want to be a part of.

Indeed, the problem isn't limited to New Hampshire. NBC News published an interesting analysis this morning, noting, "From New England to Arizona, Republicans are struggling to land top-tier recruits even as the deteriorating political climate for Democrats puts them in a strong position to win back the chamber."

Consider some of the 2022 contests that are expected to be the most competitive:

  • In Arizona, Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly is seeking a full term, and the leading GOP contenders are running on weird anti-election conspiracy theories.
  • In Georgia, Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock is also seeking a full term, and the top Republican is a controversial football player who's been accused of, among other things, domestic violence with a gun.
  • In Pennsylvania, Republican Sen. Pat Toomey is retiring, and the top GOP candidate is a controversial author who's also been accused of domestic violence.
  • In Missouri, Republican Sen. Roy Blunt is retiring, and one of the top GOP candidates is a scandal-plagued former governor who's also been accused of domestic violence.
  • In Nevada, Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto is running for re-election, and the top Republican is also embracing anti-election conspiracy theories.
  • In Ohio, Republican Sen. Rob Portman is retiring, and the GOP contenders hoping to succeed him are in a race to the bottom, moving to the far-right to appeal to the party's base.
  • In North Carolina, Republican Sen. Richard Burr is retiring, and the GOP contenders hoping to succeed him are in a similar race to the bottom.

In many 2022 contests, GOP leaders tried to recruit popular Republican governors — see the races in Arizona, Maryland, and Vermont, for example, in addition to New Hampshire — but at least for now, they've said they're just not interested.

As a result, the party will likely be stuck with several nominees in competitive races who are both far from the American mainstream and difficult to take seriously.

That doesn't necessarily mean they'll lose. It probably wouldn't be appropriate to name names, but the Senate already has some Republican members who are far from the American mainstream and difficult to take seriously, but they got elected anyway.

That said, as these developments unfold, I find myself thinking about the first term of Barack Obama's presidency.

In the 2010 midterm elections, a Republican wave wiped out the Democratic majority in the U.S. House, but Democrats held onto their U.S. Senate majority — because GOP primary voters nominated unelectable candidates in Delaware, Colorado, and Nevada. The political winds were obviously blowing in Republicans' direction, but it wasn't enough to flip the chamber.

Two years later, the Democratic majority in the Senate actually got a little bigger, thanks to unelectable GOP candidates who lost in Missouri and Indiana.

It's impossible to say with confidence whether history will repeat itself, but the point is that candidates matter, and right now, Republicans are struggling to recruit the best candidates.