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Chris Sununu Leans Into the White House Race
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Chris Sununu Leans Into the White House Race

New Hampshire’s governor is taking steps to run in 2024.

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu speaks in 2021. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)

Chris Sununu is accelerating plans to run for president, with close allies telling The Dispatch the New Hampshire governor wants to seek the Republican nomination and is exploring avenues for mounting a viable 2024 campaign.

In telephone calls and in-person meetings, Sununu is pitching a potential White House bid to wealthy Republican donors in New Hampshire who have backed his four gubernatorial campaigns—and to top GOP financiers across the country. The response is encouraging the governor to move forward. Sununu’s political operation has conducted polling to test messaging and political competitiveness with Republican voters and is holding conversations with prospective campaign staff in the key, early primary states. 

If he runs, Sununu would enter the contest no later than June 30, he says.

“I think he’s got the intent to run, he’s just not ready to formally announce it,” said Tom Boucher, a Sununu donor in Bedford, New Hampshire, and chief executive officer of a local restaurant group.

“I’m getting texts and emails from people all over the country who know that I know him,” added Phil Taub, a Sununu donor and attorney in Manchester. “He is being told: ‘You should run.’”

In a brief interview Thursday, a confident-sounding Sununu talked like he was poised to do so.

The governor said his immediate family was on board with him running—a crucial development initially considered doubtful. Sununu also said that he has reached two important conclusions: He can raise the resources necessary to field a viable campaign; and he has a legitimate path to the nomination, analysis he attributed to internal polling (despite surveys showing Donald Trump an overwhelming frontrunner and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis the next most likely to supplant the former president in that position).

All that Sununu has left to figure out, he said, is whether he wants to be the president.

“That’s it. That’s effectively where I am. That’s the dead truth of it. Even running for governor is a major deal—but this is 1,000 times more impactful than that,” Sununu told The Dispatch by telephone. “I really think I can win. So it’s about, if I really think there’s a path from here to there, I need to make sure I’m willing to commit for the rest of my life, if it goes the way I think it can go.”

Sununu, 48, is a Massachusetts Institute of Technology-trained engineer who managed a ski resort before being elected to the first of four two-year terms as governor in 2016. But Sununu, an avid hiker who traversed the Appalachian Trail after he graduated from college, was no stranger to politics. His father, John H. Sununu, is a former New Hampshire governor and chief of staff to President George H.W. Bush. His older brother, John E. Sununu, is a former U.S. senator who also served in the House. 

The younger Sununu is popular in New Hampshire, where the support of independents and swing voters is crucial to winning statewide elections. His tenure has coincided with an otherwise dry spell for the GOP in New Hampshire that extends to 2010, the last time a Republican not named Sununu won a statewide election. That’s why the governor was heavily recruited to run for Senate in 2022. He declined, concluding the only office in Washington that interested him was oval.

But Sununu would enter the Republican presidential primary as a big underdog, even though New Hampshire votes second on the GOP nominating calendar, after Iowa and before South Carolina.

He supports abortion rights in the first 24 weeks of pregnancy, although he signed a law prohibiting the procedure after that period well before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. And the governor is not the sort of cultural populist preferred by grassroots Republicans these days, a la Trump and DeSantis. Sununu is a technocratic reformer who would rather focus on traditional conservative issues, like fiscal responsibility, reducing the size and scope of government, and national security.

That has impressed GOP donors, at least. 

Many of them are fed up with Trump’s brand of pugilistic politics and are searching for a Republican standard bearer who can broaden the appeal of a party that has suffered three consecutive disappointing national elections and has lost the national popular vote in seven out of the last eight presidential contests. One such community of Republican financiers giving Sununu a look are those associated with the Republican Jewish Coalition.

The governor impressed the group at its fall conference in Las Vegas just after last November’s midterm elections and did so again recently during private gatherings with RJC donors in Beverly Hills, California, and New York. An attendee at the Beverly Hills event, a lunch at the Peninsula Hotel, described the audience of about 25 donors as agreeing wholeheartedly with Sununu’s presentation. 

“It’s one of those things where he talks and their heads are nodding,” this Republican insider said. “They get where he’s coming from.

David M. Drucker is a senior writer at The Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he was a senior correspondent for the Washington Examiner. When Drucker is not covering American politics for The Dispatch, he enjoys hanging out with his two boys and listening to his wife's excellent taste in music.