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2022 Watch: Top GOP Senate Recruit Makes Major Decision

AP Photo/Mary Schwalm, File

The will he/won't he speculation is over. National Republicans went all-in to persuade New Hampshire's popular Republican Governor Chris Sununu to run for Senate next year against incumbent Democrat Maggie Hassan. Hassan has been something of a nonentity in the Senate during her sole term in office. She's a partisan rubber stamp for Chuck Schumer and has not distinguished herself in many, or really any, significant ways. If pitted against a well-known, well-funded, well-liked GOP challenger this cycle – especially if the political environment continues to favor the opposition party nationally – Republicans believe Hassan's seat would be ripe for the picking. And the candidate most likely to pluck it was Sununu. He's been polling well against her in hypothetical match-ups, and New Hampshire voters know and trust him. His approval rating as governor stands at (+14), despite some recent erosion. 

It's not difficult to see why Mitch McConnell and company were hot on the prospect of a Sununu v. Hassan race: 


And this recent survey of the hypothetical match-up – again, despite some slippage in the governor's popularity – had Republicans salivating:

A new Granite State poll shows a tight hypothetical 2022 U.S. Senate matchup between Republican Gov. Chris Sununu and Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan – the results coming just a few days after the governor said his decision on whether to challenge the incumbent is imminent. The poll of 1,323 registered New Hampshire voters, conducted by the Saint Anselm College Survey Center from Oct. 20-22, found Sununu leading Hassan, 46 percent to 41 percent, with 9 percent choosing “someone else” and 4 percent undecided.

But Gov. Sununu, despite some pointed criticisms of Hassan, has repeatedly stated that he is strongly disinclined to go to Washington. Rumors swirled that he and his family genuinely didn't want to go the Senate route, in spite of the full-court press by a national party trying to navigate precarious 2022 Senate math. Indeed, earlier today, Gov. Sununu announced his intention to seek re-election for a fourth term as governor (governors serve two-year terms in New Hampshire), and eschew the Senate race: 


This is unquestionably a blow to the GOP and their hopes of retaking the upper chamber majority next year. The Senate is split 50/50 at the moment, and the map is challenging. Republicans will be playing defense in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, North Carolina and elsewhere. Bad or extreme candidates could put any of those GOP-held seats at risk, and perhaps others in play, too (think potentially Ohio or even Missouri). In other words, even a strong red-tinted national climate could result in Democrats expanding their Senate majority, just as Republicans managed to pull off 2018, despite a sizable blue wave in the House. Republicans' best opportunities for gains are in New Hampshire (though Sununu demurring makes that feat less likely), Georgia, Arizona and Nevada. All the other Democratic seats look quite safe, with the possible exception of Colorado. None of those appear to be lay-ups at this early stage, even if there's a plausible path to clawing back the majority from Schumer. New Hampshire still looms large. Democrats are expressing explicit relief at Sununu's decision: 


They were scared of him. But while Sununu taking a pass makes the lift heavier in the Granite State contest, it's still on the board. This was also my first thought after Sununu declined to run for Hassan's seat. Rematch?


Ayotte ran a strong campaign in the Republican wave year of 2010, winning the open seat by 23 points. Six years later, she lost by about 1,000 votes – running ahead of Donald Trump – in a state in which she and Trump both fell just short (by 0.1 and 0.3 percent, respectively). Ayotte was certainly on the shortlist of backup plan options for the GOP in this race, but it looks like she's out, too. It's also possible that someone like 2010 Ayotte could emerge, run a credible campaign in a favorable environment, and win. Knocking off an opposite-party incumbent is harder than holding an open seat previously controlled by your own party, but Hassan is hardly a juggernaut, and 2022 may end up feeling closer to 2010 than 2016. In a place like New Hampshire, this analysis holds

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