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Sununu Poised to Use Bully Pulpit in New Hampshire Primary
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Sununu Poised to Use Bully Pulpit in New Hampshire Primary

Plus: Washington state gets a moderate Republican gubernatorial candidate.

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu speaks on the future of conservatism at the 2023 SXSW Conference and Festivals on March 12, 2023 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Travis P Ball/Getty Images for SXSW)

Happy Monday! Locked doors, jiggled doorknobs, and a one-finger salute led to a physical altercation at a Michigan GOP state committee meeting on Saturday, the Detroit News reports. Clare County Republican Party Mark DeYoung says James Chapman, a Republican from Wayne County, was denied entry to the closed-door meeting. DeYoung also says Chapman “kicked me in my balls as soon as I opened the door” before slamming DeYoung into a chair.

“When you see me taking my glasses off, I’m ready to rock,” said Chapman, who has a different telling of the events.

Up to Speed

  • In a CNN interview that aired Sunday, President Joe Biden said he is “an unyielding supporter of Israel” but the nation has “one of the most extreme members of Cabinets I’ve seen.” Biden added about Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu’s coalition: “It’s not all Israel now in the West Bank, all Israel’s problem, but they are a part of the problem, and particularly those individuals in the Cabinet who say, ‘We can settle anywhere we want. They have no right to be here, etc. … And I think we were talking with them regularly, trying to tamp down what’s going on and hopefully, Bibi will continue to move toward moderation and change.”
  • Project Rescue America, a super PAC backing the reelection of GOP Sen. Rick Scott of Florida in 2024, announced that it “raised almost $1.2 million in its first quarter of operation after forming in April 2023,” The Dispatch has learned. The super PAC reports more than $1.1 million on hand heading into the second half of the year.
  • Democrats are working to thwart a potential third party bid funded by the centrist political group No Labels, which could harm Joe Biden’s reelection prospects. The progressive group MoveOn and center-left Third Way plan to brief Senate Democrat chiefs of staff on the risks associated with a third party campaign and “want to share some information that they have on No Labels,” Politico reports. While No Labels contends polling “shows an overwhelming opening for a third-party ticket,” detractors say No Labels is overstating its chances and that a third party would serve as a spoiler. 
  • Iowa Republicans announced on Saturday that the party’s presidential nominating caucuses will be held on January 15—Martin Luther King Jr. Day. “We see this as honoring the legacy of Martin Luther King in terms of having a caucus here,” said Iowa Republican Party Chairman Jeff Kaufmann. Kaufmann noted committee members hadn’t considered the possibility of the contest landing on the federal holiday before choosing the date.
  • Retired U.S. Army Capt. Sam Brown, who ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination for Senate in 2022, officially launched his Republican campaign to challenge Democratic Sen. Jacky Rosen in Nevada on Monday. 
  • Actor Hill Harper announced Monday that he will seek the Democratic nomination for retiring Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow’s seat in 2024. Rep. Elissa Slotkin has emerged as the early frontrunner in the Democratic field.

Sununu Readies for Role as Republican Heavy

CONCORD, New Hampshire—Gov. Chris Sununu is poised to wield his bully pulpit as the Granite State’s top Republican to push weak GOP presidential candidates out of the 2024 primary. His plan: Engineer Donald Trump’s defeat by allowing voters opposed to the former president to unify behind a single, formidable alternative.

Sununu says candidates have until sometime in November, roughly two months before the New Hampshire primary, to prove their viability. Around then, the governor is prepared to give them a shove—privately, but publicly if necessary—in an effort to avoid a repeat of 2016. In that contest, Trump was able to win the first traditional primary on the GOP calendar partly because voters opposed to him split their support among multiple candidates. 

“One on one, Trump loses. Most people understand that and know that,” Sununu told reporters Thursday during a conversation in his office in the New Hampshire Capitol. “My message would be to the candidates: We owe to the Republican base the ability for them to have a good choice. Otherwise we’re just diluting the process and we’re making it harder and more frustrating for them.” 

The governor, who opted against running for president partly because he believed the market for Republicans not named Trump was oversaturated, elaborated:

“The vast majority of folks won’t really make up their mind who they’re voting for until three weeks before the election. So even if you double or triple that time that means people around November time frame are going, OK, here’s where we could go,” he said. “That’s when I think you’ll start seeing, either pushing folks off the stage—if you’re not cutting it by then, you’re not cutting it. And I’ve been very blunt about that, whether it’s myself or others, and I think there would have to be a concerted effort, just, encouraging candidates to get off the stage, get out of the race.” 

Trump is the overwhelming frontrunner. He laps the field in nearly every poll, including here in New Hampshire, which permits independents to participate in primaries. But with the field of almost a dozen Republican contenders only fully formed in recent weeks—and the first televised debate still weeks away, Sununu expects the contest between Trump and his opponents to grow more competitive once the summer vacation months recede and voters pay closer attention. The candidates hoping to displace the former president are counting on that.

But Republican insiders here who prefer a nominee other than Trump concede a natural evolution of the race is not enough. The field is going to have to winnow. Unless most or all of the lagging candidates exit the race early enough to make room for the strongest alternative to offer the voters a binary choice, Trump can handily win the primary. In interviews with The Dispatch, party operatives working for candidates who hope to be that alternative agreed with that assessment.

The looming question is whether Sununu can make the difference in the process he hopes to—or if the candidates with lackluster support come November refuse to take a hint from voters and end their campaigns out of their own volition. 

In previous generations, when political parties were powerful and their leading figures brandished that power, a sitting governor playing the heavy could be the kiss of death for a campaign. That was then. In the 21st century, political parties have been largely ineffective at policing their own ranks. Trump is a prime example of this phenomenon. Sununu, some New Hampshire Republicans say, will run into the same brick wall if he tries to push out the GOP’s 2024 stragglers.  

Others disagree. Some top Republican operatives say the governor can make a huge difference, if for no other reason than the media headache it would create for candidates to have a Republican of his stature publicly urging them to consider a new line of work. Sununu, the only Republican serving statewide, is popular in New Hampshire and last year was reelected to his fourth two-year term by a wide margin. He plans to announce his 2024 intentions soon.

“Voters pay attention to him. What he says weighs heavy on them,” says Matt Bartlett, a Republican strategist from New Hampshire and Trump administration veteran who splits time between his home state and Washington, D.C. “Most Republicans remember 2016—how Trump won in a fractured party. It’s in no one’s interest to allow another Trump nomination, let alone get embarrassed.”

Dave Reichert Launches Gubernatorial Campaign in Washington

Breaking another party’s decades-long hold on power in a state is never a cakewalk. But that hasn’t deterred former Rep. Dave Reichert from launching a 2024 campaign to succeed retiring Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee in Washington, a state that hasn’t elected a Republican to the governor’s mansion since 1980.

Republicans are optimistic that Reichert, the former seven-term congressman and King County Sheriff who helped catch the infamous Green River Killer, has the name recognition and moderate profile that can win statewide in a West Coast state. 

Reichert said in a Friday announcement video that he’s running “to protect the vulnerable, to help small businesses, and to keep people safe.” His campaign spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

The former congressman’s decision to jump into Washington’s open gubernatorial race is a long time coming, according to King County GOP Chairman Mathew Patrick Thomas. He adds that Reichert is now the most prominent Republican to run for governor since Washington’s former Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna, who lost the 2012 gubernatorial race to Inslee by just 2.4 points.

“We’ve been talking about Dave Reichert running for governor going back to 2012,” says Thomas, who thinks Reichert’s decades of public service and high name ID in King County—Washington’s most populous county and home to Seattle—can’t be overstated. 

Another factor working to Reichert’s favor is the crowded Democratic field this far out from next year’s jungle primary in August, when the top two finishers will proceed to the general election regardless of party affiliation. Democrats already have two high-profile candidates running for governor—Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz and state Sen. Mark Mullet—and a third, Attorney General Bob Ferguson, has formed an exploratory committee. Richland School Board member Semi Bird is the only other Republican in the race.

That crowded Democratic field could play to Reichert’s favor in a top-two primary if the Republican field remains small. “Democrats are going to be splitting their vote all over the place,” says Washington’s former Republican Secretary of State Sam Reed.

One Republican candidate Reichert doesn’t have to worry about is Dr. Raul Garcia, who upon learning of Reichert’s campaign abandoned his own gubernatorial bid over the weekend and launched a campaign for U.S. Senate instead on Reichert’s ticket. Garcia, who won just 5.4 percent of Washington’s gubernatorial primary vote in 2020, is running to take on four-term Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell in November 2024.

“I have a lot of admiration and respect for Dave and just sought out a solution that was a win-win scenario,” Garcia tells The Dispatch.

Further down the ballot, there’s also a behind the scenes effort from some Washington Republicans to pull Seattle City Attorney Ann Davison into next year’s open attorney general’s race, The Dispatch has learned. Davison did not immediately respond to a request for comment about her plans.

Like others, Davison is likely waiting to see how much enthusiasm develops behind the top of the ticket over the next few months in a state where winning statewide as a Republican is still incredibly difficult.

One D.C.-based Republican operative familiar with Washington’s gubernatorial race says it’s incumbent on the Reichert campaign to put the 2024 contest on the national radar. That rings true after an especially disappointing cycle for West Coast Republicans last fall, when GOP Senate nominee Tiffany Smiley was touted as a uniquely strong general election candidate and then lost to Democratic Sen. Patty Murray by nearly 15 points in the general election. 

“I imagine donors and so forth will have a little bit of caution jumping into a race in Washington state,” the Republican operative said. “It’s really on the candidate and their team to go out and demonstrate that they can raise the money, that they can build a campaign, that they can clear the primary, and make the race competitive.”

Notable and Quotable

“So, everybody wants a Blizzard. What the hell is a Blizzard?”

—Donald Trump asked Dairy Queen employees during an Iowa campaign stop on Friday, July 7

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.

Audrey is a former reporter for The Dispatch.

Thomas Dorsey is an intern for The Dispatch.